In 1981, three fourteen-year-old boys witness a horrific murder in the Oregon woods near their homes. Sucked into becoming accomplices to the subsequent cover-up, they swear never to talk about what happened.
Thirty years later, Tommy Devereaux has become a bestselling author, using writing as his therapy. Finally, he is ready to tell the world what happened, even if he disguises the killing as fiction. But his life is set to unravel when he is approached by a woman who asks for his autograph, leaving behind a note which reads: 'You didn't even change my name.' Tommy's worst nightmare has come true. A figure from his past has returned, threatening to divulge his darkest secret unless he agrees to do everything she asks of him. Thus begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game that can only end with one or both of their destructions.
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|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Boy in the Woods
By Carter Wilson
Severn House Publishers Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Carter Wilson
All rights reserved.
Denver, Colorado Present day
Tommy Devereaux stared out from the twenty-fourth floor of the downtown Hyatt, soaking in the expanse of the Rocky Mountains, laid out before him like a painting. The Peaks Lounge was one of his usual late-afternoon writing spots. The drinks and the Wi-Fi signal were both strong, and that's about all any writer needed. More than anything, though, the lounge always had a good buzz of energy, which he preferred around him when he was working. Ironically, a room full of people talking and laughing helped him to focus. And, when he needed the help, Tommy could look into the crowd and pluck out the perfect description for a character he was writing. Characters were everywhere; all you had to do was look.
'Excuse me,' a voice said behind him.
Tommy turned and saw a middle-aged woman with dyed hair, an excess amount of makeup, and a figure that was just entering the giving-up phase of life. Pity, Tommy thought on first glance. Something about her suggested she could have been so much prettier. The woman held a book in her left hand.
'I am so sorry to bother you, Mr Devereaux,' she said. Tommy heard Minnesota in her voice. 'I heard you sometimes come here. I ... I just love all of your books. I've read each and every one.'
'Thank you,' Tommy said.
'Can I get you to sign this, please?'
'Of course.' Tommy took the book from her hands. It was an old hardback of The Blood We Know. Ten years ago, that book had allowed Tommy to quit his day job as an executive in a small but profitable real-estate company. The first day he had woken up as a full-time writer and no office to go to was one of the best days in his life.
'Do you want me to sign this to anyone?'
'To Maggie would be great. Thank you so much.'
As he wrote he waited for her question. If they asked a question – and they almost always did – they waited until he was busy doing the signing.
'I was just wondering ...' she said. She seemed to search for the right phrasing. 'How ... how come your villains are always women?'
Third most popular question, behind Where do you get your ideas from? and Will you ever let your children read your books?
Tommy looked up at her, noticing her blue eyes. He thought she had probably been a beautiful young woman, and wondered at what age she had gone from beautiful to Maggie.
'They're not always women,' he replied. 'Sometimes they're merely girls.' He winked, letting her know that was as much of an answer as she was going to get. The truth behind the question was much too personal to discuss with the likes of Maggie. Or anyone.
Maggie smiled and nodded at him, as if he had given her all the insight into his literary soul she needed.
'Well ... thank you, Mr Devereaux. And ... that is, if you don't mind me saying, not all women are bad.'
'Of course not, Maggie. But they make much more interesting killers, don't you think?'
She nodded and smiled. 'Yes, I suppose they do. Well, then. Goodbye.'
She turned and started to shuffle away before she paused and turned back to him.
'Sorry, just wondering. You working on something new, Mr Devereaux?'
'Can you tell me what it's called? Or is it a secret?'
If she had read all his books, why hadn't she read the first-chapter teaser of his latest work in the back of The Blood of the Willing?
'It's called The Blood of the Young.'
'What's it about?'
'You'll have to buy it to find out,' he said. 'But I will tell you it has the scariest killer yet.'
Maggie smiled. 'Oh, my. I'll make sure to buy it.' She blinked in a kind way, but to Tommy it seemed forced, as if she was trying to bring warmth into cold eyes. 'Well. Goodbye again.'
Maggie left the lounge just as a margarita materialized in front of him.
'You ever get tired of the fans?' Erin asked. She'd been serving him margaritas for years, and that was just how he liked it. Routine comforted him, even though he hated to think of himself as a routine sort of man. Still, Tommy wondered if he'd keep coming to the Hyatt if Erin wasn't here to hand him his drink.
'Never. My career wouldn't exist without them.'
'How about the ones who are fantasizing about you while you're signing their books?'
Tommy looked back to the lounge entrance. 'Who? The one who was just here?'
'Oh, please. She looked ready to devour you while you were signing her book.'
'Come on.' He felt his cheeks threatening to blush.
'A bestselling author who looks like you? I'm just sayin'.' Erin didn't pause to let him react. 'So, you writing or procrastinating today?'
Tommy was happy for the change of subject. Erin always flirted, and while he had to admit it wasn't unwelcome, he never flirted back. 'Haven't decided yet,' he said. He looked out the window and saw mountain-sized thunderheads rolling in over the Rockies, an explosion in slow motion. The late-September sky was a gunmetal blue. 'Thought I'd be here at least to watch the storm.'
'Best seat in the house. Enjoy.'
Erin left and Tommy looked at his watch. Becky would be here any minute. It was their late- afternoon routine, at least on the weekdays. Routine.
His wife would read while her husband wrote, and there was some kind of yin and yang to the whole process. Tommy took a sip of his margarita and opened up his laptop. The screen came to life where he left it: his latest book. The Blood of the Young was scheduled for publication by Christmas, but Tommy was fairly certain that wasn't going to happen. He'd already missed three deadlines, the first three of his career.
'Hey, babe,' said the voice in his ear. Tommy smiled as Becky leaned in and kissed his cheek.
She sat next to him and smoothed her skirt over the top of her thighs. 'Can I tell you again how much I love these afternoon breaks? Evie has been a terror today. Melinda can deal with both of them until we get home.'
Melinda was their nanny. Sometimes Tommy wondered if Becky could remember the days when they struggled to make mortgage payments and ate ramen for dinner, while their baby boy (with colic, no less) cried endlessly with no nanny around to help. That was over a decade ago, of course. You can get used to lots of things after a decade, Tommy thought. Especially wealth.
She nodded at the computer. 'How's it going?'
'It's not going anywhere at the moment.'
'Are you stressing?'
Tommy shook his head and stared at the glowing screen. 'As Douglas Adams said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by. " '
'I'll have it done soon. I just need to figure out the ending.'
She touched his knee. 'Sure you don't want me to read it?'
Truth was, he couldn't wait for her to read it. But he never showed anyone – not his wife, agent, or editor – anything more than the first few chapters of a work in progress. Not until it was done.
Especially The Blood of the Young.
It was a special book. Worth missing three deadlines over.
The tip of Becky's shoe poked him softly in the shin. 'Well, Mr Bestseller, you let me know what I can do to help.'
He looked at her and she arched one eyebrow.
'You're sexy,' Tommy said.
'Damn right I am. You're lucky to have me.'
'Don't I know it.'
Thirteen years, Tommy thought. Thirteen years and he still wanted her day in and day out. Seemed she felt the same way.
'What's that?' she asked.
Becky leaned over and picked up an envelope from the floor. She began to pull out the contents before stopping herself. Instead, she handed it to her husband. 'This yours?'
'I don't know,' he said, taking the envelope from her.
He removed the sheet of paper from within and began to read.
'Baby?' she asked.
Seconds or hours passed.
'Baby? What is it?'
Tommy said nothing.CHAPTER 2
He read the sentence only three times, then just stared blankly at the words because he didn't want to look up at his wife.
You didn't even change my name.
When Tommy was twenty-two, he'd crashed his aging Toyota Camry into the back of a pickup. It had been raining that day and his balding tires couldn't grip the road when the truck in front of him slammed on its brakes. He'd been going nearly sixty miles an hour. There came a point in that instant before the collision when Tommy had accepted his fate. Car won't steer. Going to hit a huge piece of metal in front of me. Don't know what's going to happen to my body. Nothing I can do about it.
On that day, he had accepted a situation he could not control. Somehow, deep inside himself, he knew he'd be OK. Because Tommy Devereaux was always OK, no matter what happened.
This moment was nothing like that. Thirty years of silence just exploded in his face.
Tommy ignored his wife's question and snapped his head toward the front of the lounge.
Where did she go?
Only Maggie wasn't Maggie.
Maggie was Elizabeth.
Dyed hair or maybe a wig. Excessive makeup. Maybe some padding underneath her clothes to look heavier than she actually was. But the eyes. The blue-jean eyes were the same. He should have known. Despite the decades, he should have recognized her, because Elizabeth was the reason why Tommy was who he was. He saw her every day in his mind.
'Tommy? What is it?'
Becky's voice was far away, calling him from outside the dream he was in.
Tommy stood and walked to the window, gripping the note in his hand.
He looked twenty-four stories down to the streets. Looking for the blonde.
There were too many people. Besides, what would he do if he saw her?
'OK, now you're freaking me out.'
This time his wife's voice was louder. Closer. He had to say something.
He was a New York Times bestselling author and nothing was the best word he could come up with.
'Nothing my ass. You read that note like it was your own obituary. What did it say?'
'It was ...'
Come on, Tommy. What are you going to say? If you decide to lie, the lies all begin with this moment. Everything changes now, and you have about three seconds to decide what to do.
'A woman came up to me to get my autograph, right before you got here. I guess she left this note behind.'
'What did the note say? '
'In so many words, she said the world would be better off if I wasn't part of it.'
As he sat back down, Tommy realized it was the wrong answer. He could've just shown her the note. Told her he didn't understand what it meant. But then she would have wondered why he reacted so strongly to a note he claimed not to understand. It didn't matter now anyway. He was committed to the lie.
Concern washed over her face, making Tommy feel instantly guilty. 'Let me see,' she said, holding out her hand.
'No. There's no point.'
Erin approached with a drink in her hand. It was Becky's cosmopolitan that she never had to order.
'Afternoon, Mrs Devereaux.'
Tommy hoped Erin would distract Becky, but Becky dismissed her with a meager thank you and turned her attention back to her husband.
She examined him. 'Why would she want your autograph if she hates you?'
'To get close enough to leave me the note, I guess.'
Death threats weren't new. Neither were they common, but given the wide distribution of Tommy's books, he would always have his critics. Some of those critics were crazy. It was just the odds.
'No one's ever done that in person before,' Becky said. 'You should call the police.'
'I said no. I just want to get back to enjoying my evening.'
'Well, I'm a little freaked out.'
Tommy felt Becky staring at him as he focused on his laptop screen.
'Why won't you let me read it?' she asked.
'Because you don't need to.'
She let that sit for a minute.
'You would tell me if there was something else, wouldn't you?'
Tommy looked up and tried his best to keep his expression blank.
'Something else like what?'
'I just don't like having secrets between us.' There was the beginning of a look in her eyes. A look he never wanted to see again.
Both of them knew what she was referring to when she used the word secret. There had been another secret. Once. Tommy had come clean about it, and it had nearly destroyed their marriage.
Two years ago, Tommy had an affair.
The guilt had been too much to keep the secret inside him any longer. When he told her about it, they were in bed, getting ready to go to sleep. The TV was on, and two detectives bantered playfully with a suspect in an interrogation room, warming themselves up for the kill. The moment seized Tommy, and he grabbed the remote, pressed mute (but not off), and just started talking.
He remembered her face as he told her. He said it matter-of-factly, because he didn't know how to soften the crushing words.
Becky, I slept with someone else.
He remembered feeling the vomit well inside his throat as he spoke, the pain in the stomach, and knowing it was nothing compared to what she was feeling.
Who was it? she asked. It was the first thing she said after minutes of silence. Who the fuck was it?
This was the part where he kept lying, because the truth involved someone Becky knew. Someone who didn't deserve to be hurt, and someone who was no longer a threat to Becky. Tommy lied to protect this woman, but he told the truth about his infidelity because Becky needed to know he had wronged her. If they were going to rebuild, they could never do it without her knowing he had cheated on her.
It was in Dallas. On the book tour. It was only one night, and I don't even know who she is. She never contacted me again. I don't even know her name. It was meaningless, but I completely abused your trust and faith in me.
Becky was crushed. Truly, deeply, soul-shreddingly crushed. The look on her face was the same as if he looked her deeply in her eyes while he slowly shoved a knife into her stomach. Wide-eyed. Fearful. Intense pain. Intense confusion. Why would you do this? Who are you?
The moment he told her he had wanted to take it back, say he was only playing a very cruel joke on her, because the look on her face put Tommy into a freefall, a plummet off a skyscraper, arms and legs flailing, as if somehow the movement would keep him from slamming into the concrete a hundred stories below. There was helplessness in that look. He was going to lose her, and there was nothing he could do about it.
That same look that threatened to creep over her face now. I don't like having secrets between us.
Yet they had rebuilt their love, because at the heart of their marriage was the fact that they truly and deeply loved each other. Over the past two years, through many tearful nights and much couples therapy, Becky had learned to trust Tommy again. Yet it had taken that event for Tommy truly to realize the importance of family above all else. He vowed never to do anything to hurt Becky or the kids again. He could not live without them. He would not live without them.
At least, in the future. There was still one secret he kept from her. One from his distant past.
And it was a big one.CHAPTER 3
Tommy's pulse raced as he stared blankly at the laptop screen.
Calm yourself. Breathe slowly.
He hit a few random keys to make Becky think he was writing. But he couldn't concentrate. All he could do was think of Maggie's - Elizabeth's - face.
Their conversation had only lasted seconds. She had seemed so normal, except for the chill that seemed to come from behind her gaze.
But it was her. The woman who used to be a girl with long red hair that spilled down her back like water.
You didn't even change my name.
No, he hadn't. He figured Elizabeth was a common enough name, and since she'd been out of his life for over thirty years he felt safe using her name in the book.
Or did he want her to find him?
She was, after all, the reason for Tommy's success. What had happened that day in the woods was the reason Tommy wrote. It was how he escaped the past. The words allowed him an outlet, all cloaked under the simple heading of fiction. The Blood of the Young was almost completely fiction. All except for the opening chapter. The one chapter Elizabeth had read. Now she was back.
Excerpted from The Boy in the Woods by Carter Wilson. Copyright © 2014 Carter Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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