Justice watches from the shadows in this unique and suspenseful twist on a serial killer manhunt…
Throughout history, the world has witnessed cruel, gruesome, and twisted murders at the hands of the most notorious serial killers. For those who were never caught—Jack the Ripper, the Atlanta Ripper, and the Cleveland Torso Murderer—their crimes will live on in infamy as their identities are forever chased, but never revealed.
It’s 1947 in Washington, D.C. and a dangerous murderer has boldly discarded two headless bodies nearby the White House and the Jefferson Memorial. With no leads, Detective Clive O’Reilly is feeling desperate. When a stranger convinces O'Reilly to join him at a local pub, he is treated to a wild tale about Prudence Blackwood, an immortal who seeks vengeance for those murdered by history’s most notorious serial killers.
Initially in disbelief over her existence, O’Reilly is surprised to discover that she’s very real and she’ll be assisting in the investigation.
But Prudence has unorthodox methods. With the body count rising, O'Reilly will have to find a way to work with her to stop the most brutal killer in D.C.’s history before more victims are added to the list.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.63(d)|
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Albany County, New York, 1785
Her long, black hair whipped behind her as she sprinted through the woods. "Anna Maria!" she called.
Laughter, picked up by the wind, seemed to swirl all around her.
"Anna Maria!" the woman called again. She caught a glimpse of flaming red hair darting amongst the trees and followed it. "Stop! You're going too far!"
The young girl giggled in response and ran faster.
"If you don't stop, I'll have to tell your father and you'll receive a lashing," the woman warned.
Anna Maria abruptly slowed and trotted back to the woman. "Aunt Prudence," she said, pouting. "I was only playing."
Prudence Blackwood smiled despite herself, her bright green eyes shining. "It's time we return home."
"Please, can't we go a little farther?" the young girl pleaded. "I love exploring!"
Prudence nodded. Her niece was as adventurous as the boys her age, though they often played without her because she was a girl. Having no sisters, and being childless at age twenty-six, Prudence often took it upon herself to indulge her niece on the days when the chores were completed by midafternoon. With winter arriving soon, their time together outside was dwindling.
Anna Maria smiled broadly. "Thank you," she said, grasping her aunt's hand. "Mother never lets me out of her sight at the farm."
Allowing her niece to lead her, Prudence remained quiet. They soon came upon a stone wall, and Anna Maria dropped her hand to run to it. "Look! It's a rock wall." She pressed her small palms against it, feeling its rough texture.
Prudence's eyes swept over the large structure, and she tilted her head thoughtfully. "It looks like it is part of the land, and yet it looks like it was created by man."
The young girl's eyes widened. "Like they built it and tried to disguise it?" she asked excitedly.
"Almost," Prudence murmured. She glanced upward, noticing the sun was beginning to sink. "Come along, Anna Maria. We need to return home before the sun sets."
Her niece was sprinting toward a spot at the end of the wall.
"There's an opening!" she shouted. "Come, we must see what's inside!" "Tomorrow."
The little girl's face fell, disappointed. "We have too many tasks to accomplish before the Harvest. Who knows when we'll be able to come back here? Or if we can even find it again?"
Prudence glimpsed back toward their path home and sighed heavily. "Just for a moment, and then we must go. There will be no arguing."
"Yes, ma'am," Anna Maria said solemnly. She dashed inside, Prudence once again following her.
Despite her short stature of five feet, three inches, Prudence found herself ducking slightly to avoid bumping her skull on the ceiling. The departing sun offered little light, yet what they could see was magnificent.
The stone walls were perfectly smooth, and every few feet an archway had been carved into what seemed like an endless hall. Strange symbols were etched into the stone and, curious, Prudence ran her hands across one of the glyphs. "Ouch," she muttered, instantly snapping her hand back when she felt a sharp bolt of pain. She checked her finger in the pale light and saw that she was bleeding.
"Where do you think this leads?" Anna Maria asked in awe. Seeing her aunt's finger, she ripped off a scrap of fabric from the bottom of her dress. "Let me wrap it for you," she offered.
Prudence said nothing as Anna Maria attended to her wound, her eyes darting around from symbol to symbol, uncomprehending of their meaning.
Anna Maria frowned. The blood from her aunt's finger had been a vibrant red but was now dark — as if the blood was older — as it pumped out of her skin. The girl tied the fabric tightly around the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Noticing the light was almost gone, she turned toward the opening. "It's time to go back." Prudence remained silent, as if entranced.
"Aunt Prudence, please," Anna Maria pleaded anxiously.
Prudence turned to face her niece and Anna Maria gasped softly. The intensity in her eyes was so fierce Anna Maria felt as if her aunt could pierce her with her gaze. Prudence shook her head slightly and nodded. "Yes, it is time to return home."
It was completely dark when the two arrived at the farm. Anna Maria had worried along the way they would get lost, but her aunt's step had never faltered.
Prudence knocked on the heavy wooden door, and her sister answered quickly. "Where have you been? Prudence Blackwood, you cannot just take my child and go traipsing throughout the woods!"
"My apologies, Winifred," Prudence murmured.
Winifred Sutton opened her mouth to continue her scolding but paused when she noticed the state of her sibling. "Prudence, are you all right?"
Prudence swayed slightly as the sweat began to pour down her face. "Perhaps not entirely," she whispered.
Winifred screamed as her sister collapsed, unmoving.
* * *
Anna Maria Sutton hung her head, refusing to look at the casket as the priest spoke softly, yet powerfully. It was like he was trying to interrupt her own train of thought, and that bothered Anna Maria. She was only ten years old, but she knew she was different from the rest of her village, even her family. Only Aunt Prudence had really made her feel special, and now she was gone. The mysterious illness had overwhelmed her within days, and her injured finger never stopped dribbling blood that came to resemble molasses.
She wept, the sobs racking her body. She had tried to save her aunt. She'd led a group of men to the mysterious cavern they had discovered, but she could not find it again. She begged them to not stop helping her search for it; they had merely discarded her, calling her a child with a wild imagination. She was sure that a cure, or at least an answer as to what had made her aunt sick, would be there.
Her mother smoothed her hair, comforting her. Her father stared at the coffin he had helped build and shook his head forlornly. Prudence had been loved by everyone. She never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her for being unable to bear children, or even after her husband had left her when it was discovered her womb was barren. She had graciously allowed him to leave, never saying a word. It had been quite scandalous and he had left town because of it, but Prudence had stayed, and people admired her bravery and kindness for never cursing his soul.
The priest finished his speech, and Anna Maria glanced at him. He had closed his Bible and was looking thoughtfully at her. He smiled sadly, and then to the rest of the congregation, he made a sign of the cross. Everyone began to leave, including her own family.
"May I please stay and go to the grave?" Anna Maria asked, her voice small.
"No," her mother said immediately.
"Let her go," her father countered.
Winifred nodded as the coffin was loaded into a wagon. She jumped onto the back of it, the gravedigger protesting at first until her father spoke quietly to him. He sighed in response and jerked the reins for the horses to start moving.
The trek to the cemetery was farther than it looked, and she was coated in dust by the time they arrived. There was already a spot dug for her aunt and tears formed again as she thought about poor Prudence being alone and cold inside the grave.
The gravedigger jumped off the wagon and walked to the back of it. "Are you sure you want to see this?" he asked.
Anna Maria nodded solemnly. "Yes."
He pulled the casket so that half of it was hanging off the wagon. It made Anna Maria wince, knowing her aunt had been so small that she, even with the weight of the coffin, could be moved so easily. The gravedigger tilted it and it slid off the wagon, landing with a thud on the ground. "Usually there's two of us, but she was light," he said, perhaps trying to be helpful. The remark only fueled the young girl's unhappiness.
Another thud sounded as the casket was placed inside the grave. He began scooping piles of earth and dumping them on top of it, the sounds of splattering dirt against the wood almost too much for Anna Maria. She found a second shovel and helped, the gravedigger never uttering another word to her.
When they were finished, the gravedigger placed both shovels in the wagon and she joined him in the coach's seat.
They remained silent as they returned to the village. Once there, he opened his mouth to speak, decided against it, and merely inclined his head toward her. She smiled slightly and dashed back to her farm, the sound of dirt hitting the wood still running through her mind.
* * *
Two days later, Anna Maria was sitting by the firelight after supper, sewing a patch inside of her brother's pants. Her mother was singing as she worked, her voice soft and sweet. She loved to hear her mother sing, though this song was tinged with sadness.
Suddenly, a commotion erupted outside, the dogs barking loudly and the horses neighing nervously inside their corral. Her father grabbed his musket and a lantern and ventured outside, ordering his sons to remain inside to protect the women.
There was a pale figure approaching from the far side of the farm. Her dark hair was tangled, her dress covered in stains he couldn't identify. "Stop!" he commanded. "Stay back!"
The figure ignored him and continued walking. "I will shoot!" he warned. When the figure ignored him once again, he raised his musket, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The figure stopped for a moment, looking down at its stomach. It shrugged and kept coming.
"Bring me my powder, boys!"
Anna Maria's father was still reloading his second shot when the figure arrived, and he stumbled back in shock.
Prudence Blackwood stood at his doorstep, her skin a deathly pale. Dirt covered her dress and her hair was matted. Her green eyes were wild, making her seem unworldly.
"It's the devil!" Winifred yelled, peering over her husband's shoulder.
"No!" Anna Maria cried. His musket reloaded, her father raised it once more and aimed it at her aunt. She stepped in between them. "You will not harm her!"
"Anna Maria," Prudence spoke. Her voice was unwavering. "Please go inside."
Her niece clung to the folds of her dress. "No, I'm not leaving you."
Prudence sighed and placed her hand on top of Anna Maria's head.
"You will not touch her, demon!" her father shouted.
"I am no demon," she replied calmly.
"You have risen from the grave itself!"
Prudence cast her gaze toward the cemetery that could not be seen from the Sutton farm. "I have indeed," she murmured. "Though I am not dead."
"What happened to you, Aunt Prudence?" Anna Maria stared at her aunt in amazement.
"I was in a deep sleep," she answered softly. "I could hear you. All of you. I could even hear the doctor declare me dead and I screamed, though my mouth would not work. I was unable to move my body." She looked at her niece, her eyes gentle. "I even heard you crying as the gravedigger covered my casket."
Anna Maria burst into tears. "I helped him," she said, sobbing. "I didn't know you were still alive!"
"Shh, Anna Maria," Prudence soothed her niece. "I hold no fault against you or anyone else."
"How did you survive in the casket? There was no air!"
Prudence's gaze hardened as she looked at her brother-in-law. "I don't know. It was almost as if I was in a dream state and, suddenly, I wasn't. I had to break my way out of my own coffin and then I came to you. To my family."
Winifred grasped her sister's hands. "But there are no markings upon you! How did you escape without injury?"
Prudence looked at her hands as if noticing them for the first time. She moved them into the light of the lantern, the bewilderment clear on her face. "I don't remember feeling any pain."
As her aunt studied her hands, Anna Maria wrapped her arms around Prudence's waist. The fabric was rough and she leaned back, seeing a large hole for the first time. Prudence's skin was visible underneath. She gasped and her father grabbed her shoulder, yanking her away.
"I shot you! There is a hole in that garment! Demon!" Without aiming again, he shot Prudence in the heart.
Yet she did not fall.
Another hole was ripped into her dirt-covered dress, another patch of white skin visible now.
"You shot me," Prudence said quietly. "I did not feel any pain."
"You're invulnerable!" Anna Maria said in amazement. "How, Aunt Prudence?"
Her mother began to cry in terror, her brothers trying to hide their own fear. Her father turned red with hate and anger. "You are the devil!" he bellowed, pointing at her. "I will gather the townspeople. I may not be able to shoot you, but we will tear you apart and cast you out, demon!" He was trembling with rage.
Prudence knelt down to Anna Maria's level. "I cannot stay here."
"You can! You'll show them you're not a demon." Even as Anna Maria spoke, her father was already on his horse and galloping toward the town.
"Anna Maria, I will make sure you are well cared for and look in on you when I can."
"You will most certainly not!" Winifred yelled.
Prudence shot a glance at her sister. She whimpered and slammed the door, leaving her and Anna Maria alone. "I do not know what has happened to me, but I do know it is unnatural. I must go now. Please be strong. Be strong for me. Be strong for you." She kissed the top of Anna Maria's head and, without another word, went into the night.
Anna Maria watched her until she disappeared into the forest. She was still crying when her father returned with the men, torches in hand. They followed her aunt into the forest, sure they were going to find her.
She knew they would never see her again.CHAPTER 2
Washington, D.C., 1947
The body was fairly fresh, the ligature marks on its wrists and ankles appearing as if the skin would snap back into place as soon as the twine was cut. Twine? Detective Clive O'Reilly peered more closely at the frayed string. He ran a hand through his shaggy, light brown hair and sighed. "Has anyone found the head yet?" he called, his deep voice amplified by the nearby Potomac River.
Several policemen were gathered at the site, searching frantically. The body had been reported that morning by two boys who had been out fishing at dawn. They were currently further down the river, fishing as if there was no crime scene they themselves had reported earlier. The detective shook his head. People in this town were tough.
"Edith called, Clive. She wants you to take Frankie this afternoon."
"Shit," Clive spat. "Did you already tell her that's not going to happen?"
Detective Andy West patted his round belly. "You know lying upsets my stomach."
Clive looked at his partner and frowned. "It's not lying. I can't take our son now."
"I didn't know that before I left the station to come down here," Andy replied easily, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "That ex-wife of yours sure is going to be a handful when you tell her you can't take Frankie." He took off his hat and wiped his brow, exposing his diminishing white hair. "That sun is already beating down on me," he said, replacing his hat.
"It's winter, Andy."
"I'm old. I've got thin skin. The rays penetrate faster," his partner retorted. He watched the other policemen scour the riverbanks. "You ought to spend more time with him, you know. He's already five. He's growing up fast. You don't want him to grow up and wonder where his daddy was," he said softly.
"Frankie knows I've got my priorities and they're to catch the bad guys," Clive replied, peering once again at the body. "It doesn't look like there was much bleeding from the neck wound when he decapitated this man."
"How do you know the killer is a man?" Andy asked, crouching down next to Clive.
"What woman do you know who can remove a head in one blow? Look, there are no markings to indicate that it took more than one swing."
"I was just testing you," he said with a grin. "Look," he added more seriously, "I made sure to put my family first. It wasn't always easy, but I did it, and now I am an excellent grandpa to three beautiful grandchildren."
"You and your wife weren't divorced, so you didn't have to juggle the job and your kids. Damn, that was one hell of a sharp ax."
"That's because I didn't put the job first instead of my family," Andy said tensely.
Clive straightened, his jaw working vigorously as his temper rose. Lightly, he asked, "When do you retire, old man?"
Andy stood and slapped his partner on his back. "You're thirty-one. You're still young. You've got a lot of figuring out to do."
"Like who murdered this man," Clive said, redirecting the conversation.
"We got it!"
The two detectives immediately began walking to where a group had gathered. "Stay here and make sure to keep away the onlookers," Andy ordered. A policeman, fresh out of the academy, nodded solemnly.
"Jesus, it's a bullet wound," Clive said through gritted teeth. He squinted. "Looks like another .22 caliber."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Immortal Prudence Blackwood"
Copyright © 2019 Stephanie Grey.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
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