Every murder has a story.
Every story begins at home.
Tampa newscaster Tori Younger is saddened to learn her childhood friend, Brooke Martin, hung herself from the old water tower in their hometown. Tori hasn’t spoken to Brooke in years and doesn’t feel comfortable returning to attend the services. Then cryptic text messages from Brooke’s cellphone change her mind.
Attending the funeral, Tori confronts a past that still haunts her and questions the text messages haunting her now. Her investigation leads to a fact she suspected all along: her old friend didn’t commit suicide but was murdered. There’s no shortage of suspects either: Brooke’s angry husband who instigated a fight the night she died; Brooke’s high school principal who denies rumors they were having an affair; and a town sheriff who shares a stormy past with Tori and is blocking her investigation at every turn. The only witness appears to be Brooke’s five-year-old daughter who hasn’t spoken since the tragedy and continually draws the same graphic picture of the night her mother’s body was discovered hanging from that old water tower.
Tori knows one of them has Brooke’s cellphone and is texting her from it. Others are convinced it’s Brooke reaching out from the Great Beyond. Either way, someone from her past is playing a deadly game of Hangman.
|Publisher:||Sunbury Press, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.71(d)|
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_N E_RLY GR_VE
Saturday, June 23
Something — or someone — caught Brooke's eye, and she leaned over the kitchen sink. With her nose pressed to the window, she studied the woods beyond the gravel drive. The dark oaks loomed over the brambles, and a breeze rustled the branches of the trees and the bushes, but she saw no one there.
Brooke scolded herself and laughed at her overactive nerves. Obviously, she'd imagined the movement. It wasn't the first time. To be honest, she never wanted to live this far out in the Florida backwoods. It was too isolated. Too dark. Too quiet. And even more so tonight, it didn't feel safe.
She looked down at the coffeepot that'd been sitting in the sink since early that morning. Turning on the faucet, she ran a sponge under the water and then saw movement again from the corner of her eye. This time she knew she saw branches move. She turned off the tap. The running water gave way to the stillness of the kitchen, and she listened. Her eyes focused. She blinked and peered closer to the windowpane. Searched the tree line.
The branches brightened — a quick flash a few feet off the ground. What the heck was that? A flashlight? She focused on the trees. A light glowed and shined in her eyes.
Startled, she jumped back and bumped into her husband, who was suddenly standing behind her. She let out a short gasp.
Ash didn't seem to notice he startled her, or maybe he just didn't care. "You're home late."
He held an empty Jack Daniel's bottle in one hand and placed his free hand on her shoulder, moving it down to grip her upper arm. He towered over her. At six foot four, he had the body of an ex-athlete that showed surprisingly little evidence of the amount of alcohol he consumed.
She twisted her arm to break his grip. "Someone's out there." She turned and peered out the window. The woods looked dark again.
Ash shoved her aside and leaned over the sink. His breath fogged the glass. "I don't see no one."
"I saw a light — a flashlight or something."
He looked down at her. "Where you been all day?"
"You know. I was helping Winnie with the float. We lost track of time."
He chuckled as if he knew more than he was letting on. "You were there all day?"
"Of course." She almost spat the response, as if the faster she answered him the more likely he would believe her. "Like I said, we lost track of time."
"Winnie dropped by this afternoon." He removed a cell phone from his pocket and dropped it on the granite island in front of her. "She said you left it behind when you bailed on them."
Avoiding eye contact with Ash, Brooke picked up the phone and examined it. The screen was black, the battery dead. Her breath caught in her throat. How could she be so forgetful? So careless.
"Where'd you go?" He stepped closer, crowding her personal space.
She set the phone on the counter. The truth would instigate a bigger, angrier fight. Running a hand through her hair, she looked away. "I had errands to run."
"You were seeing him again. You were with that fake- tanned, pansy-ass principal again."
"Of course not." Sighing, she smoothed her red dress. The feel of the expensive fabric soothed her. "You're being paranoid."
"Am I?" He paused, as if giving it some thought, and stepped away from the sink. He slammed the empty bottle onto the island countertop. The glass reverberated against the hard granite and nearly fell as he walked to the fridge. He reached toward the upper cabinets and swung the doors open. He grabbed another bottle of Jack. The top popped with a quick thwap that made her cringe. She decided not to comment on it.
"I had work to finish." She faced the sink again, glanced out the window. It was the truth. Sort of. "At school."
"On a Saturday night?" Ash demanded, his words slurred.
She didn't answer. He stood behind her, and she could feel his breath on the back of her neck. She could smell the liquor. It made him sound raspier than normal.
"Kinda dressed up, huh?" he whispered in her ear. "For working on a Saturday ... during summer."
She turned away. Yes, she was wearing her favorite red dress, but it was old, really. Nothing special. And it certainly didn't mean anything. "I wasn't with him."
"You're lying. Again." He paced the kitchen, raising his arms, spilling whiskey from the open bottle. Swinging around, he moved behind her. "You and him got somethin' planned, don't you? Whatever it is, you ain't takin' my daughter."
Not this again. She put her hands on the countertop and squeezed her eyes shut. "Ash, you always get like this when you've been drinking. Your imagination is —"
"Darla is my little girl. She's my daughter."
She pushed past him, out of the kitchen. He followed her into the dining room.
"You're not taking her."
"Ash, please." She forced her voice to remain calm. If she got emotional, the argument would spiral out of control. Again. So, she inhaled before continuing. "I should've never told you. I knew it was a bad idea. I knew you wouldn't be able to handle it, but I didn't have a choice."
"You had a choice." He grabbed her arm, jerking her and sloshing more whiskey from the bottle. She turned to face him. He leaned down to meet her eye to eye. "You chose him over me."
"That's not what happened." She took the bottle from his hand. "I can't talk to you when you get like this."
"Don't turn this around on me." He grabbed the bottle and threw it at the wall. The glass shattered.
Brooke jumped at the sound, and it brought a heavy silence to the room.
"You an' that pretty boy," he said, his voice growing louder, "ain't takin' my daughter."
Brooke stared at the wall. Wet streaks ran down to the glass shards at the baseboard. She couldn't take her eyes off it. He stepped closer to her, opened his mouth as if to say something more, and waved an arm at her. He stumbled out of the dining room. She watched him a moment and considered leaving him alone. She could retreat to the kitchen. Avoid him. Let him sleep it off.
Then she thought of Darla — he was going after their daughter.
"Ash? Ash! What are you doing?" She followed him to the front entry and grabbed his arm to prevent him from heading up the staircase.
He yanked his arm free. "You ain't takin' Darla."
"Ash, stop it. This is all in your head."
"Get outta my way." A quick shove with his right hand to her upper chest pushed her downward.
With a loud crack, her right shoulder hit the narrow table beside the front door, knocking over the family photos and sending a vase of white lilies crashing to the tile floor. Glass shattered, spilling water and the large trumpet flowers across the floor. Brooke felt her dress fabric give and then rip along the seam. She got up onto her knees and thrust herself forward on shards of the shattered vase, to the bottom step of the staircase. She scrambled up after him, reached for his left leg, grabbed the bottom of his jeans. She pulled. He fell facedown, hitting the steps. She held tight to his leg. He mashed his boot heel into her face.
She grunted but held tight. She gripped his leg with both hands, struggled to pull him down as he inched upwards. He shook his leg. She let go and fell backward. He scrambled up another step. She regained her balance and launched after him. She grasped his foot. Tugged. Pulled his leg as hard as she could. Her right hand slipped. His foot sprang out of the boot, knocking them both off kilter. Gravity took over and they tumbled together to the floor.
Brooke wiped blood from her lip and stood up, now towering over him. "Just leave. Leave, if that's what you want, but you're not taking our daughter. She won't go with you."
"Why?" He got to his feet. He reached for her, wrapped his fists around both her arms and shook her. "Did you tell her? Did you?"
"No," she screamed, sobbing.
He released her.
She looked away. "No, I didn't say a word."
"You turn'n her against me?"
"No." She faced him, looked into his eyes. She clenched her jaw, swallowed her tears. "We're a family. You're my husband. Darla is our daughter. None of that has changed."
"We ain't a family." He raised an arm, causing her to flinch, but he pointed at her instead. "You broke this family."
"We can move past this." Her voice was a whisper, audible over her sobs. But she knew he heard.
"Can we?" he said, spitting a drop of blood as he spoke.
"Yes. I love you. You love me. Right?" She moved closer to him, waiting for an answer. "Right?"
"I don't know." He wiped his mouth with the back of his left hand but wouldn't look at her. "I don't know anymore."
She tried to process what he'd said. The words made her tremble.
"I don't know," he repeated.
After several moments of silence, he removed his wedding ring and flung it at her. It bounced off her chest and landed on the floor with a dull clink. His head turned, his eyes seemingly focused on the small gold band, and slowly, he looked back at her. Without another word, he brushed past her and opened the front door. It slammed shut behind him, followed by the sharp squeak and bang of the screen door.
She dropped to her knees, listening. His angry footsteps crunched the gravel in the drive. The truck door slammed. The engine started, followed by spinning tires and upended gravel. He sped away.
When all was quiet again — and dark — she looked up. Her little girl was watching her from the upstairs landing. Her face peeked out between the spindles of the staircase.
"Everything's okay, baby." Brooke got up and returned to the dining room. She didn't want Darla to see her cry. "I'll be up in a minute to tuck you in."
"But Mommy —"
"Bed. Now." She yelled louder than intended and caught herself. She took a quick breath. "I'll be up there in a couple minutes."
Standing in the dining room, she looked down at the front of her dress and studied the split seam running along her thigh. Maybe she could sew it, she thought as she noticed the broken glass on the floor. Picking up a couple of the larger pieces, she watched the drying amber streaks of whiskey run down the dining room wall and pool along the baseboard. She left the puddle and went into the kitchen. When she placed the glass in the sink, a nauseated churning in the pit of her stomach chilled her and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
She became keenly aware of the silence. Like before. Turning her head, she listened, and glanced out the window over the sink.
Two eyes stared back at her.
Large and white, they widened, staring into the kitchen. They moved ever so slightly as if to get a better view. She could see no other features of the face, just the eyes. They blinked.
Brooke exhaled and stumbled backward, almost falling. She looked away. Her hands gripped the edge of the granite countertop and she steadied herself. She looked back at the window. Darkness.
Running to the entry hall, she locked the deadbolt on the front door. Her other hand flipped off the porch light. She leaned across the table and peeked out the front window. A moth fluttered in the upper corner of the porch. Wind scattered dead leaves across the weathered planks of the porch. The old swing swayed back and forth, its chain squeaking. Beyond it was blackness. It lay heavy over the drive, and the woods, and everything hiding within it.
She held her breath and concentrated. Her eyes squinted to find a body moving in the darkness. Some shape. Something. Anything to confirm that she had in fact seen someone out there. It couldn't just be her nerves. Not this time.
She let out a breath as a face popped up in the window. Their eyes locked, inches apart, separated by a single, thin pane of glass.
Her mind scrambled to process what she was seeing. A figure. Was it male? Female? Was it wearing a ski mask? She could see nothing but the eyes. They stared back at her. Studied her. She screamed. The eyes widened as if startled and vanished from the window.
Brooke looked to the front door. The screen door outside squeaked as it opened. The doorknob turned, twisted back and forth. It stopped, only to be followed by a knock.
At first, it sounded faint, almost polite, then intensified. Pound! Pound! Pound! Something outside wanted in.
She ran to the kitchen. Her cell phone lay on the island countertop. It wouldn't turn on. There was a landline phone hanging on the wall. She grabbed the receiver. The black coiled cord wrapped around her arm. The dial tone blared over the pounding on the front door. She stretched her neck to look behind her, into the entry hall, and a sideways glance out the window. The pounding on the front door grew louder. Turning back to the phone, she mashed the buttons. An operator came on the line.
"911. What's your emergency?"
"There's someone outside my house." Her voice wheezed. She could barely speak. She hyperventilated. "They — they're trying to break in."
The knocking stopped. The screen door slammed shut against the frame. The house turned quiet again. The operator on the phone asked another question, but Brooke wasn't listening. She stared out the kitchen window over the sink. A shadow moved across the porch. Something rustled along the side of the house ... a faint scuffle that started at the foundation and rattled up the wall.
She scanned the kitchen, listening. A paralyzing fear rippled through her body. Above her, the disturbing knocks turned to blunt footfalls along the upper edge of the ceiling. Someone was walking on the roof over the porch. The footsteps stopped as quickly as they began, replaced by an unnatural silence.
The operator on the phone spoke again.
Brooke dropped the handset, shrieking, "Darla!"
She ran out of the kitchen and stumbled back into the front entry. Taking the steps two at a time, she screamed for her daughter and scrambled onto the upper landing. She burst into Darla's room. Flipped on the light.
The room was quiet, the window open. The bed empty.
The wooden rocking horse sat in a corner, with the purple plush elephant sitting atop it.
"Darla?" Brooke moved to the closet and flung open the bifold doors. No. She turned to the bed, dropped to her hands and knees, and looked under it. No. She sat up. The wind whistled through the open window, disturbing the curtains. She rushed to it and looked outside.
The bedroom overlooked the front porch, and she squinted, focused, tried to see her daughter in the yard. Brooke's eyes searched the yard and then the woods.
On the horizon, the silhouette of the water tower overshadowed the trees. Below it, the abandoned orange grove spread out like dead shrubbery. Wind weaved through the brittle branches. Even from the upper bedroom window, she could hear the ghostly whine.
She scrutinized the gravel drive beyond the front porch roof. Her minivan was barely visible, covered by the solid shadow of their old farmhouse. Ash's black truck was gone.
"Darla!" She leaned out of the window as far as she dared. Her voice echoed through the woods. It reverberated and then disintegrated into silence. Brooke pulled back into the bedroom, when a flash of light caught her eye.
Coming through the dead branches in the grove, it rippled like a strobe light. Like a flashlight. Bright, then dark, then bright again, moving toward the old water tower.
Brooke screamed for her daughter.
She pulled her head from the window and left Darla's room. Racing down the staircase, she slammed into the front door. Unlocked it. Swung it open. Burst onto the front porch.
"Darla!" Her voice rang out as she stumbled into the yard, to the edge of the driveway. No one was there. She looked back at the house, up at Darla's open window. The curtains moved. She turned her head. Branches snapped in the grove. Something, someone was running through the trees.
Brooke hollered, "Stop!"
Only the wind shrieked back.
"Darlaaaaaaa!" Brooke let loose till her throat burned. She ran into the dead grove. She plowed through the dry branches. Moss dangling like spider webs brushed her face and caught in her hair.
She pushed on. A few minutes later she felt winded and her calves burned, but she continued forward. The branches scratched her. Cut her. Slowed her down. The seam in her dress ripped higher, freeing her legs with a rush of cool air. She paused to catch her breath. Gulped air and called out for her daughter. A faint echo returned, but nothing else.
The water tower eclipsed part of the horizon. From the top of the structure, a line of light crossed the black sky. It waved and wagged as if someone was signaling to her. She didn't have time to think about it. She picked up speed, willing her legs to move faster. Pushing her way through the brittle branches and leaves, she came out the other side of the thicket.
Now the tower dominated the sky. Brooke raised her head to look at the rotting structure and yelled again. She heard a thud. ... Followed by another. Sounds of movement came from within the rusted drum. Something hid inside it. Darla.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "H_NGM_N"
Copyright © 2019 JC Gatlin.
Excerpted by permission of Sunbury Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tori Younger is a new reporter that hears about her childhood friend hanging herself from the old water tower. Tori is torn about going back for the funeral since she has her own demons that ran her out of town but she bites the bullet and returns home. While at the funeral, Tori has her own past to work through but starts questioning if her friend really killer herself leaving her five-year-old daughter alone and at the scene of the crime. Tori’s curiosity is peaked and she starts looking into Brooks past. She finds there is a lot more happening to Brook than she knew and that the possible killers are plenty. Then Tori stars getting text messages from Brook’s phone. No one is admitting to having the phone and some look at it as Brook reaching out from beyond the grave. But someone is playing a deadly game and Tori is going to be the next victim. Oh my goodness, where to begin. I was hooked from the beginning and could not put this book down. I don’t blame Tori for not wanting to go back home but she does the right thing. Then she learns that there is way more happening than what you see at first glance. I thought I might know where this story was going but I was wrong up until the reveal at the end. Lots of suspects, lots of suspense, and one heck of a killer. I can’t believe that this is the first book of JC Gatlin’s that I have read. It was an amazing and dark thriller, just like I like them. I recommend checking out this book. Now I can’t wait to read more of Gatlin’s other books. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.
"I could not put this book down! It's fast-paced and the characters are very likable. The dialogue is fresh and the story is well-crafted. Gatlin's style of writing holds you in its grip until the last page! This story is not predictable. It's engrossing and I found myself not wanting to be interrupted from reading it because I couldn't wait to see how the story unfolds. I've read all of Jc Gatlin's books and this might just be his best yet!!
Every murder has a story. Every story begins at home. Tampa newscaster Tori Younger is saddened to learn her childhood friend, Brooke Martin, hung herself from the old water tower in their hometown. Tori hasn’t spoken to Brooke in years and doesn’t feel comfortable returning to attend the services. Then cryptic text messages from Brooke’s cellphone change her mind. Attending the funeral, Tori confronts a past that still haunts her and questions the text messages haunting her now. Her investigation leads to a fact she suspected all along: her old friend didn’t commit suicide but was murdered. There’s no shortage of suspects either: Brooke’s angry husband who instigated a fight the night she died; Brooke’s high school principal who denies rumors they were having an affair; and a town sheriff who shares a stormy past with Tori and is blocking her investigation at every turn. The only witness appears to be Brooke’s five-year-old daughter who hasn’t spoken since the tragedy and continually draws the same graphic picture of the night her mother’s body was discovered hanging from that old water tower. Tori knows one of them has Brooke’s cellphone and is texting her from it. Others are convinced it’s Brooke reaching out from the Great Beyond. Either way, someone from her past is playing a deadly game of Hangman. I enjoyed this thriller. I found it to be a fast paced read. I enjoyed the colorful turns of phrase and the humor. The story line is very well thought out and written. Definitely loved the unexpected twists involved. I enjoyed the characters and found them well written. Looking forward to reading more from this author. Recommend reading. Thank you Netgalley.
Phenomenal thriller! If you are looking for your next read, look no further. Wowza! This is an intense murder mystery that will keep you up all night reading! I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! Cryptic! Tori’s a well known newscastor and her childhood friend Brooke recently hung herself which sends Tori back home to face her own demons and help figure out what happened to Brooke! This is a page turner and it’s written so incredibly well. I love a good thriller that keeps me guessing and interested until the very last page and that is exactly what I got here! Books like this are rare to find, this needs to be your next read. I’d also recommend this for your next book club read, everyone will enjoy it and have plenty to discuss after! Take a ride with H_NGM_N! You won’t regret it!
Description Every murder has a story. Every story begins at home. Tampa newscaster Tori Younger is saddened to learn her childhood friend, Brooke Martin, hung herself from the old water tower in their hometown. Tori hasn’t spoken to Brooke in years and doesn’t feel comfortable returning to attend the services. Then cryptic text messages from Brooke’s cellphone change her mind. Attending the funeral, Tori confronts a past that still haunts her and questions the text messages haunting her now. Her investigation leads to a fact she suspected all along: her old friend didn’t commit suicide but was murdered. There’s no shortage of suspects either: Brooke’s angry husband who instigated a fight the night she died; Brooke’s high school principal who denies rumors they were having an affair; and a town sheriff who shares a stormy past with Tori and is blocking her investigation at every turn. The only witness appears to be Brooke’s five-year-old daughter who hasn’t spoken since the tragedy and continually draws the same graphic picture of the night her mother’s body was discovered hanging from that old water tower. Tori knows one of them has Brooke’s cellphone and is texting her from it. Others are convinced it’s Brooke reaching out from the Great Beyond. Either way, someone from her past is playing a deadly game of Hangman. This book was just kind of a mess for me. It was changing from one chapter the characters too much, It was ok. Thanks, NetGalley for the advance copy for early review.
When well-known newscaster Tori Younger learns of the suicide death of a childhood friend, she faces a touch decision. Go back home and pay her respects or send flowers and stay home. She was humiliated by a man who proposed marriage and then didn't bother to show up for the wedding. Mortified, she packed her bags and never looked back ... until now. The funeral behind her, she starts receiving text messages from her deceased friend' s phone ... but how can that be? No one admits to having the phone or sending messages... and she know she isn't crazy. She doesn't believe that her friend hung herself ... the note she left is not in her handwriting and she would never have left her young daughter alone. So .. is someone trying to chase her away? To keep the truth hidden? Tori might find the answers she wants ... but at what cost? This is a well-paced, fast-moving mystery with lots of twists and turns to keep you guessing at what the stupendous ending will reveal. Many thanks to the author / Sunbury Press, Inc. / Milford House Press / Netgalley for the digital copy of this crime fiction. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.