A Virginia detective’s estranged wife is targeted by an obsessive killer in this psychological thriller by the New York Times bestselling author.
The first kill was easy. The second much easier. No guilt, no remorse, just a rush of adrenaline surging through him as each life drains away, and the pleasure of knowing their deaths help his beloved Lindsay. And there are so many more who deserve to die . . .
Lindsay O’Neil’s secret past is suddenly coming back with a vengeance. When she receives a twisted gift hidden in a bouquet of flowers, the detective assigned to the case is also her estranged husband. Only Zack knows the dark secret she lives with—or so she thinks. Now nothing can prepare her for the nightmare to come. Because everything Lindsay’s stalker does is for her. And spurning his gifts will only unleash the rage of a madman who’s far closer than she imagines . . .
“Creepy and terrifying, it will give you chills.” —RT Book Reviews
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I'm Watching You
By MARY BURTON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2007 Mary Burton
All rights reserved.
Monday, July 7, 4:10 A.M.
Thou shalt not kill.
The shadowed figure squatted in the darkness by Harold Turner's lifeless body, amazed that excitement, not shame, surged.
The sense of power and righteousness was nearly overwhelming. God's calling to be the Guardian had never been clearer.
Placing the .45-caliber handgun and silencer into a black duffle bag, the Guardian eyed Harold's body, propped against dented metal trashcans.
Even in death, Turner appeared pompous. Arrogant.
A neat part divided Harold's thinning black hair. Manicured nails glistened in the moonlight. His double-breasted suit and white shirt still looked crisp, and his yellow silk tie matched the handkerchief packed in his breast pocket. Gold monogrammed cuff links told anyone worth knowing that Harold had money and taste.
But beneath the expensive suit that Harold always wore were track marks on his arms and behind his knees. It was an open secret that Harold had been a drug addict for years.
The Guardian adjusted Harold's tie over the growing plume of blood staining the attorney's shirt. Countless hours had been spent planning this first murder, strategizing and worrying to near exhaustion. And in the end, luring Harold here had required only the promise of drugs. Firing the bullet from the .45 into his chest had been effortless.
"A fitting place, don't you think? I mean, a battered women's shelter. Your wife certainly would understand why I chose this place."
The shelter behind them was housed in a white Colonial, and it blended so seamlessly into the middle-class subdivision that most neighbors didn't know the home's true purpose. Soft moonlight washed over the shelter's grassy backyard. A six-foot privacy fence corralled assorted kick balls, bicycles, and rusted wagons — all donated toys used by the children staying at the shelter. There was a swing with a long yellow slide surrounded by mulch.
Thoughts of the children stirred anger in the Guardian. "There shouldn't be places like this. It's not right. Children should feel safe in their own home."
The Guardian leveled an accessing gaze on Harold. The high-and-mighty attorney had stood up in federal court this morning to defend his drug dealer client, speaking with authority, visibly comfortable with his ability to manipulate "reasonable doubt."
The Harold Turner who had appeared in the county courtroom was a far cry from the man who'd stood here just minutes ago with tears running down his face begging for his life. That Harold had never understood a fear so sharp it burned.
But this Harold had.
This Harold had dropped to his knees. He'd offered money and promised lavish favors — anything to buy back his miserable life.
"But fancy appeals don't work on me, do they Harold?" the Guardian had said. "There is no redemption for you."
A slight breeze rustled through the thick canopy of leaves above. Soon the sun would rise and with it the heat. This had been one of the hottest Julys on record and the heat was drying up yards, draining water tables, and straining tempers.
In the distance a dog barked. A cat screeched. They ran through the dark yards, their sounds vanishing in the night.
The Guardian stared up at the shelter, searching for any sign that the animals had awoken anyone. A light on the second floor came on but it just as quickly went dark. In the last hour of the night, the people in the shelter and the neighborhood slept.
This was a sacred and blessed time. Predawn's quiet and peace conjured feelings of invincibility and invulnerability.
The Guardian unfastened the gold cuff link on Harold's left wrist and carefully tucked it in the attorney's pocket before neatly pushing the shirt and jacket sleeves up to his elbow. A platinum wedding band squeezed the ring finger on Harold's left hand.
"His power is great, and He never lets the guilty go unpunished." The Bible verse had given the Guardian comfort during the darkest days after Debra's death. Sweet, sweet Debra, dead at thirty-nine, her life stolen by her own husband. Like Harold, Debra's husband had been a respected man in the community, but a violent man at home. His tyranny had trapped Debra and her daughter in hell for years.
Memories of Debra and her child brought sadness and regret. Debra had cried out for help. She'd wanted out of her marriage. She'd wanted a fresh start. But no one had come to her rescue. No one had cared what happened behind the closed doors of her house.
And then Debra's husband had killed her. He'd violently beaten her to death and then, like the coward he was, had retreated and killed himself. Debra's only child had found her mother. The violence of that day had left its mark on the girl and she'd run away.
Many a night the Guardian had dreamed about Debra and her child and prayed for their forgiveness.
Twelve years had passed. And then the sign from God came a few months ago. The sign was an article in a magazine. It was so clean and pure and it made the Guardian weep. There had been no question then that the time for revenge had come.
Debra was gone forever, as was her child's lost innocence, but those who hurt their families could be rooted out and severely punished. They could be made to pay for their sins against their families.
The Guardian removed a machete from the black duffle bag and raised the blade high overhead. The edge was razor sharp, finely honed on a whetstone until the blade could slice paper.
Moonlight glinted off the blade before it came down in one slicing blow that severed the flesh and bone of Harold's left hand.
Blood splattered onto Harold's face and shirt as well as the Guardian's jumpsuit and gloved hands. The blood looked brown in the moonlight as it oozed from the stump and pooled in the dry earth around Harold's body.
Primal energy surged through the Guardian. For a moment, life had never felt sweeter.
Retribution is mine.
After wrapping the hand in a plastic zip-top bag, the Guardian shoved it into the duffle bag along with the machete, still dripping with blood.
Satisfied that no one had seen, the Guardian zipped the duffle bag closed and then jogged across the backyard, slipped though the privacy fence gate, and sprinted to the waiting van parked halfway down the block.
Opening the van's front door tripped the dome light. Blinking against the brightness, the Guardian quickly got in and closed the door. Darkness shrouded the cab once again. For several seconds, the Guardian sat in the darkness scanning the homes around to make sure no one had seen. The homes remained dark.
Finally, satisfied that no one would intrude, the Guardian shifted his attention to the open flower box on the passenger seat. The box was filled with purple irises. Each individual stem had been capped with a vial of water to preserve freshness.
After removing Harold's hand from the canvas duffle bag, the Guardian reverently wrapped it in green tissue and nestled it under the flowers.
The choice of irises was inspired. She would understand their meaning.
Friendship. Hope. Wisdom. Valor.
After replacing the lid back on the flower box, the Guardian tied the red silk ribbon around it into a precise bow, removed a prewritten card from the glove box and slipped it under the knot.
The Guardian switched on the ignition. The dashboard light washed over the box and the thick, bold handwriting on the card.
It read, "For Lindsay."CHAPTER 2
Monday, July 7, 8:10 A.M.
Lindsay O'Neil was late for work. Desperately late. She was running so far behind because a power outage had silenced her alarm clock and she'd overslept by almost three hours.
She glanced down at her Jeep's speedometer. It hovered just above thirty miles per hour, but she'd gladly have doubled that speed if Broad Street's four lanes of westbound traffic hadn't been so clogged with commuters.
Tension squeezed her chest. Normally, it took fifteen minutes for her to make the ten-mile trek from her apartment to the women's shelter where she worked. But normally, she didn't sleep as soundly as she had last night. Most nights dreams woke her frequently and she had no trouble rising early and leaving by five A.M.
Lindsay turned on the radio. She punched the "scan" button several times before finally settling on a song she liked. The music and lyrics calmed her and enabled her to take a few deep breaths. Some of the tension released from her body.
For the last year and a half, Lindsay had worked as the director of Sanctuary Women's Shelter. Her schedule was always jam-packed with counseling sessions and administrative meetings, and most days she barely had time to eat.
And today's schedule was going to be busier than most. In the last two and a half hours, Lindsay had missed the seven A.M. group-counseling session that she held each Monday. The meeting was mandatory for all shelter residents. She'd also missed an eight A.M. conference call with the chairman of the shelter's board of directors, Dana Miller, who expected weekly updates.
Missing the teleconference was a problem, but she could talk her way out of it. However, sleeping through the group session with her residents was inexcusable. The women who attended that meeting were all in abusive relationships. Many hadn't worked in years, and most were more afraid of the unknown that lay ahead than they'd been when they'd lived with the threat of physical violence. Often Lindsay did little more than listen, dispense tissues, and offer hugs. What was important was that she was always there to bolster them up — no matter what.
And today she'd let them all down.
She flipped open her cell phone. She'd rushed out so quickly this morning, she'd not thought to call the office. However, the phone's screen was blank. The battery was dead. Hadn't she set it on the charger? "The power outage. Damn it."
Lindsay stopped for a red light and tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. Heat spiraled up from the road's black asphalt. Even though she had the air-conditioning on full blast, the heat rose up through the floorboards. The Jeep's engine fan came on and within seconds the motor hesitated and threatened to cut off.
"Damn it," she muttered.
She'd been promising herself for months to take the Jeep in for a tune-up but kept putting it off. There never seemed to be enough time. Now the engine balked in the high temperature. She shut off the air conditioner and rolled down the window. Thick, heavy July air rushed into the car.
Without the strain of the air conditioner, the engine settled down.
She started to perspire.
"God, I hate the heat."
It coiled around her. It made her temper rise. It made her remember....
"Mom," she whispered, closing her eyes.
Twelve years ago a seventeen-year-old Lindsay had come home early from her lifeguard job on a hot, stormy afternoon. Usually, she worked until closing time, past nine in the evening. But on that hot day, thunderstorms had sent streaks of lightning across the cloudy sky. The manager had closed the pool around two and had sent the lifeguards home.
Her lifeguard buddy from the club, Joel, had given her a ride home. "Hey, are you sure you don't want to catch a movie?" Joel was a skinny kid with blotchy skin and braces. "It's my treat."
She knew Joel had a crush on her and she didn't want to hurt his feelings. "Thanks, but I don't get a chance to spend much time with my mom. But I promise we'll go next week?"
"It's a date." He dropped her off at the top of the circular drive in front of the green framed house built almost a hundred years ago by her great-grandparents.
Lindsay waved and with her pool bag dashed past her mother's prized flower beds filled with daylilies, begonias, and marigolds. The front screen door wasn't locked, which bothered her. She'd warned her mother about keeping the door locked.
Her mother had forced her father out two months earlier, because she could no longer endure the verbal and physical abuse. Since his departure, the house had taken on a lighter air. Her mother had begun singing again and she'd taken to wearing makeup. Now Lindsay no longer searched for excuses not to come home. In fact, she looked forward to it.
Lindsay dropped her pool bag by the front door and checked her watch. Her mother's waitress shift at the Ashland Town Restaurant wouldn't start for a few more hours so it gave them time to hang out together.
Thunder boomed and shook the windowpanes in the house. Dark clouds hovered over the corn fields and the distant trees. Gusty breezes inverted the oak tree leaves, making the tree line look more silver than green. The storm was heading east fast and soon it would be all around them.
From the kitchen, the radio crooned California Dreamin' by The Mamas & the Papas. It was her mother's favorite song. Lindsay smiled, recalling how the two of them had danced to the tune just a few weeks ago. Her mother dreamed of going to California, of seeing the Pacific Ocean and visiting Universal Studios in Hollywood. Lindsay had promised to drive her mother cross country next summer right after she graduated from high school. For fun, they spent their spare time mapping the route west.
The song's chorus repeated the verse about churches, kneeling and pretending to pray.
Lindsay started to hum and grabbed a soda from the refrigerator, popping it open.
That's when Lindsay spotted her father's worn work gloves on the kitchen table. Suddenly, her stomach churned. What was her father doing here?
He'd called her mother once or twice in the last couple of weeks. The calls had worried Lindsay, but when she had questioned her mother about them, her mother had downplayed everything and told her not to fret.
Everything looked as it should. The linoleum floor was swept clean. Dishes drained in the strainer. White lace curtains fluttered in the window. The Formica-topped table had two place settings arranged across from each other. Her father could be charming when he wanted to be and most likely had convinced her mother to fix him lunch.
Now a stir of cold air brushed the back of Lindsay's neck. The house suddenly felt different. Wrong. Apprehension squeezed her heart.
Lindsay glanced around. "Mom!"
She crossed the kitchen, pushed the back screened door open, and glanced at the swing and glider by the toolshed in the backyard. Dark clouds covered the horizon.
"Mom, where are —"
Lindsay turned to the right side of the yard. She stopped abruptly. Her mother lay on her back near the trash cans by the fence.
She rushed toward her mother and stopped just inches from her. Her mother's face was so beaten, so swollen, it was nearly unrecognizable. Blood pooled around her head. Beside her body lay a bloody hammer that looked as if it had been hurriedly discarded.
Dropping to her mother's side, Lindsay reached out to her mother but hesitated. She was afraid to touch her.
Afraid to touch the woman who'd loved her, cared for her, and refused to abandon her no matter what.
A honking horn wrenched Lindsay from the memory and brought her back to the present. She glanced up at the green light. Sweat beaded on her forehead. Her hands trembled. Cursing, she punched the gas.
Twelve years and her hands still trembled when she remembered that day. Twelve years and she still had nightmares. Twelve years and she felt that if she didn't have a white-knuckle grip on her life it would all slip away.
"Stop it, Lindsay," she muttered. "It's long over. Done."
Purposefully, she shifted her mind from the past to her to-do list that she made certain never ended. The first thing she needed to do was call her boss Dana and apologize for missing their conference call. The second must-do job was to write the summation for the grant application, which, if they won, would pay the salary for a full-time counselor. Then there were the fund-raiser ideas, the notes for her talk to a local church group tonight, and the hospital intervention awareness seminar....
A therapist had once called Lindsay's jam-packed schedule an avoidance device. He'd said it was easier for her to stay busy than to think about her losses. Lindsay hadn't argued, because she knew he was right. But she didn't know how to slow down and keep the dark thoughts at bay.
When she turned into the quiet residential neighborhood where Sanctuary was located, she slowed to the twenty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit. She was so far behind schedule today that she'd be working late into the night just to break even.
She downshifted to first gear when she spotted the two police cars and the unmarked Impala parked in front of the shelter.
Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel and tension nearly choked her breath away. "Oh, God, what's happened now?"
The last time the cops had been to the shelter's secret location, one of the residents, Pam Rogers, had broken strict protocol and called her abusive husband. Pam had divulged the shelter's location and asked him to come get her. He'd arrived fifteen minutes later. She'd run out to him, begging him to take her back. Instead of welcoming her, he'd hit her and then ordered her into his car. When the hysterical overnight volunteer had called Lindsay at home, Lindsay had immediately contacted the one brother Pam had mentioned. He didn't know where his sister was so Lindsay had called in favors hoping to find Pam.
Excerpted from I'm Watching You by MARY BURTON. Copyright © 2007 Mary Burton. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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