IT’S TOO LATE
It starts as a prank. Among the teen counselors at Camp Horseshoe, tensions and hormones are running high. It’ll be fun to scare Monica O’Neal a little—or a lot. What could go wrong? Everything.
Twenty years later, Detective Lucas Dalton is investigating the discovery of human remains at what used to be Camp Horseshoe. Lucas worked there that infamous summer when two girls went missing, rumored to have been kidnapped—or worse. Now seven former female counselors are coming back to the small Oregon town. Each one knows something about that night. Each promised not to tell.
Among them is Bernadette Warden, the woman Lucas has never forgotten. As they reunite, a new horror unfolds. First comes a simple, terrifying message: YOU WILL PAY. Then, the murders begin—as a web of lust, greed, and betrayal is untangled to reveal a killer waiting to take the perfect revenge . . .
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.50(d)|
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You Will Pay
By LISA JACKSON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Lisa Jackson LLC
All rights reserved.
Cape Horseshoe Then Elle
So this was the end.
Her life over. At nineteen.
Elle's chin trembled. She told herself to be brave, but her courage failed her.
"God help me," she whispered, though no one could hear. Her words were lost with the rush of the wind and roar of the surf raging twenty feet below. She stood on the precipice, her bare toes curling over the edge of the rock, her heart in her throat, her pale hair whipping over her face. A storm was brewing, whitecaps frothy on the dark water, rain threatening, the air sharp and bracing.
She didn't care, barely noticed as she gathered her courage and touched her belly through the thin cotton of her nightgown.
Jump! Now! It's the only answer. You know it. It's best for you. It's best for Lucas. It's best for the baby.... Or was it? A new life. As yet unborn? A headache blasted behind her eyes, and doubts assailed her even as she told herself this was for the best.
Tears drizzled down her cheeks. She knew that what she contemplated was madness. Yet she had no other options, no place to go, no one to trust. She closed her eyes for a second, took a deep breath of salty sea air, thought of all the might-have-beens that now were only lost dreams. Here, at this pathetic little camp on the Oregon coast, a place that was to have been an oasis, an Eden, but a place that had crumbled into the very pit of Hades.
She'd come here on the verge of summer, filled with eager anticipation, knowing she could work with children, spread the Lord's word, make that final step before college in the fall. Instead ... Oh, God. She'd found hatred and pain, known love and rejection, discovered treachery so deep it curdled one's soul.
And she'd sinned.
Oh, Lucas. She swallowed at the thought of him. Tall, blond, with muscular shoulders, a strong jaw, and a wicked sense of humor.
She blinked against the tears and the rain, miserable and alone.
Could she do it?
Just let go and leap into the frigid, swirling waters of the Pacific? Really, was this the only answer? She teetered with the buffeting wind. Her eyes flew open and she caught her balance. She blinked but couldn't see the horizon in the darkness, felt the first drops of rain drizzle from the midnight sky.
Do it! Do it now! You have nothing to live for. Nothing!
But that wasn't true, there was —
Though the roar of the sea was nearly deafening, she thought she heard a scraping sound, like a jagged piece of metal screaming against solid rock. The hairs on the back of her neck lifted, a warning.
She wasn't the only one here?
No way. No one in his right mind would be out here at midnight in the middle of a storm.
She hazarded a quick look over her shoulder, inland toward the rocky hillside broken only by a few contorted pines. Beyond this stony ridge, the forest of old-growth firs loomed dark and foreboding. But she was alone tonight. Right? Of course! Who besides a crazy girl with nothing to live for would be out in the woods on a slippery ledge jutting over the ocean in the middle of a storm?
Not a soul.
You're imagining things.
Rain started to pelt in earnest, splashing against the rocky escarpment, soaking through the thin fabric of her nightdress, distorting the night. She swallowed back her fear. She was alone and she would do this. She had to.
Another deep breath.
Thoughts of family and friends, scattered pictures sliding through her mind, no memory strong enough to dissuade her, nothing permanent or secure enough to force her to grab on and find a little shred of hope.
She was lost.
Just be calm. It will all be over soon. You'll be at peace ... you and the baby. Guilt ripped through her and she placed a comforting hand over her flat abdomen. "It's all right," she murmured to her unborn child, her voice inaudible over the keen of the wind. "We'll be fine."
Liar! You're contemplating taking your own life, as well as that of your baby. It's not fine, Elle. It's murder! She could almost hear her mother's warning, her high-pitched voice accusing and brittle on the wind. "Do this, Elle, and you'll spend eternity burning in hell. Is that what you want?"
But her mother wasn't here. She was alone. The voice she heard was only her own fear keeping her from taking that fateful, final step.
Scritttccch! She started. Turned. Wobbled. Caught her balance.
Oh, Jesus, what was that? Definitely metal, scratching hard against stone. Definitely something that shouldn't be here.
She swallowed hard.
Straining to listen, she heard nothing more. She squinted into the woods, dark and jagged, a tree line barely visible in the night. A gust of wind pressed hard against the back of her legs.
Surely there was no one, nothing, no — then she saw it, a glimmer that was out of place, a movement that went beyond the dance of branches in the storm.
Her heart stilled and everything around her — the rain, the sea, the black of night — faded as she concentrated on that one area.
It's your damned imagination. Nothing more. Don't freak out. Deep breath and — Oh, crap! A dark figure appeared from the shadows, slowly advancing through the curtain of rain.
Her heart leapt to her throat.
Oh, my Lord, was that a knife? In one curled fist, something? A blade?
Fear clawed deep into her soul.
Then she recognized her tormentor! Gasped.
No. No. No.
Shaking her head involuntarily, her gaze glued on the advancing attacker, she held one hand out as if to fend off a blow. The other covered her abdomen, a protection of her unborn child. Involuntarily, she shrank backward, her heel sliding off the wet shelf.
She wobbled, her hands flailing wildly, the bitter-cold wind swirling and pushing.
At that second, lightning flashed. In front of her, the figure eased onto the ledge, the knife visible, a wicked, satisfied smile showing just the hint of teeth, eyes hidden in dark sockets.
Another harsh blast from the sea as she rocked crazily, the cold air whipping the hem of her sodden nightgown, slapping at the back of her head, causing wet strands of her hair to whip over her eyes. She caught herself. Balanced precariously, her feet half-on, half-off the ledge.
Suddenly she didn't want to die!
Nor did she want to snuff out the life of her baby.
Her toes tightened on the stone and she threw her weight forward. If I go — if we go — we're taking this fucking monster with us. But it was too late. She landed wrong, sliding on the slippery escarpment. Her gaze locked with one of pure evil. Come on, she thought, readying herself, come the hell on.
As thunder cracked, booming across the water, her assailant lunged, springing agilely, a dark demon pouncing.
Elle shifted to avoid the attack, but her feet slipped again. She slid backward. She started to tumble, tried to right herself, feet scrambling. A gloved hand grabbed hold of her just before she fell, steely fingers clenching around her wrist, preventing the fall.
What? This was her savior?
For a second her heart soared with hope, but then she felt the fingers release. She slid just a fraction, before a hand pushed her backward, propelling her over the edge, and this time there was no quick-reflex attempt to save her.
She fell, tumbling backward through the darkness, the salty sea air surrounding her as she plummeted into the sea. Just as she hit the icy water she saw the figure on the ledge, leaning over, watching vigilantly to make sure she fell to her — and her baby's — death.CHAPTER 2
Camp Horseshoe Then Monica
She'd made a mistake.
A big mistake ... no, make that a colossal mistake.
One she might not be able to fix.
Damn it all to hell, Monica thought, lying fully dressed on the cot in the cabin where she, barely nineteen herself, was in charge of eight eleven-year-olds. She had a semiprivate room, a tiny space with an open window to a larger area where the girls slept in sleeping bags tossed over canvas and wood cots straight out of the fifties. Everything about this stupid camp was beyond retro, all due to the domineering rule of Jeremiah Dalton, the preacher who owned and ran this crap hole of a summer camp. Dalton was little more than a dictator, a man who claimed to be a strict follower of Christ, but he was one of the least Christian men Monica had ever met. A tall, imposing figure with sharp eyes and strong features, Dalton had a doctorate in theology, and was so proud of it he expected everyone to call him Doctor or Reverend. Even his wife and kids. How sick was that?
Not that she could think about him now.
She had bigger, more personal problems to deal with, she thought bitterly as she stared upward to the exposed rafters that supported the pitched ceiling. Through the open windows she heard the lonesome hoot of an owl over the ever-present sound of the surf pounding the cliffs not a quarter of a mile away.
She checked her watch. Nearly midnight.
The other girls would be gathering at the cove, waiting for her. They were counselors at Camp Horseshoe as well, and bitches, every damned one of them. She hated them all and wondered why she'd even drawn any of them into her confidence, especially Bernadette. What had she been thinking? Yeah, Bernadette Alsace could keep a secret, or at least Monica hoped so, but still, she should never have confided in the athletic girl with the sharp wit and even sharper tongue. Then there was Bernadette's younger sister, Annette. How in the world had that wimpy little tattletale gotten a job here? Barely older than the campers, Annette slunk around the cabins and rec hall, her tiny ears open, listening for gossip. Truth to tell, Annette with her wide eyes and not-so-innocent smile kinda freaked Monica out.
Another freakoid bitch.
Oh, bloody hell, she had to quit thinking and get going!
She felt something inside her shift, but she could do nothing about it.
She'd been pregnant, had even given Tyler the news that, like it or not, he was going to be a father. Had secretly hoped that he would change with learning the knowledge, that he would love her and marry her. She swallowed hard. That had been two weeks ago. Now everything had changed. She'd been spotting and cramping and ... a deep sadness yawned within her. She hadn't planned on getting pregnant.
No! Oh, God, no. Never!
But it had happened. And though she hadn't thought she'd wanted a baby — for fuck's sake, she was much too young to raise a child — she'd been disappointed at the thought of a miscarriage, her silly, romantic fantasies about a life with Tyler destroyed. He was so handsome, with his thick brown hair, square jaw, and eyes the color of steel.
Virile, athletic, ready for any challenge, he was everything she'd ever wanted, she'd thought, and then the baby and then no baby and ... Tears flooded her eyes, but she told herself it was for the best. Now, they both could go on to college and ... and Tyler was free to marry Jo-Beth, the girl to whom he was nearly engaged. No, make that the bitch to whom he was almost engaged.
At that thought, Monica winced.
Cautiously she raised up and peered over the windowsill into the main area of the cabin. The bigger room was dark, faintly illuminated by one night-light. All of the cots were occupied, the girls dead asleep after a rigorous day of tending to the horses, swimming in the lake, Bible classes, and kitchen or latrine duty before an outdoor sing-along and prayer meeting.
Lights out at ten and after nearly a half hour of whispered gossip between her charges, they'd all fallen asleep. Even scaredy-cat Bonnie Branson, who was smaller than the other girls and had long blond curls that had never seen a pair of scissors, was out. She slept each night clutching a ratty, one-eyed teddy bear. The stuffed animal was forbidden, of course, no camper was to have brought any toys from home, according to camp rules per Dr. Dalton, but Monica had allowed the girl to have her stupid pink bear. If it kept the crying kid quiet and allowed her to get some sleep, who cared? Well, the other girls did, especially Kinley Marsh, who eagerly pointed out the violation and wanted to report it. Monica had warned that if any one of her charges mentioned a word of it, she wouldn't do the snake perimeter check each night and all of the girls would have to worry about timber rattlers slithering into the cabin. That was an idle threat; there were no rattlers here, near the sea, but fortunately even incredibly bookish and bright Kinley Marsh hadn't known or mentioned it. Though Kinley had seemed ready to bolt to the reverend's office, she hadn't, and the others had fallen in line, especially after Monica had promised them chocolate each night if they'd held their tongues. She'd then stolen the chocolate from the kitchen, bars meant for s'mores, and the girls had sworn to keep the secret of one-eyed teddy.
It was all such bullshit.
She did a quick head count, found all campers still sleeping, then rolled out of bed, slipped into her shoes, tied them quickly, and then with a final look over her shoulder, snagged her hoodie from a peg and shouldered open the swinging door outside to the cool of the night.
The smell of the ocean was ever present but tinged by the scent of the dying campfire, still smoldering in the pit at the center of the cabins, the few embers glowing red and casting weird shadows. For a second Monica imagined she saw someone sitting on a bench, a dark figure crouching, his head turned to stare straight at her.
Her heart leapt to her throat and she gasped, taking a step back. Squinting, she realized it was just a shovel someone had left propped against one of the seats that ringed the stone fire pit.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! she thought, her mother's old form of cursing running quickly through her mind. How had she mistaken a damned shovel for a person? She inched backward and cursed her wild imagination. No one knew her plans. Her own guilt was causing her to see things.
Letting out her breath, she scanned the area. Eight cabins, including the one that was her responsibility, ringed the center area of the fire pit. All were as dark as hers, no flashlight beams disturbing the umbra, no movement in the shadows, just the reddish glow from the few remaining embers. She slipped between two of the small structures to the backside of the cabins and to a path that ringed this area, where the female portion of the campers and counselors resided. Once she was past a short spur leading to the outhouses, she paused, making certain she was alone, then she broke into a jog, heading behind the last cabin and taking a path that wound through the forest and away from the barracks. Her route was circuitous, just in case she met any of the other counselors, the girls she'd agreed to meet and intended to ditch.
For now, though, she had to meet Tyler, at least one last time and tell him —
She heard voices. Whispers.
Crap! She couldn't be seen. Not by anyone.
From the sound of their voices, they were getting nearer. Monica caught sight of the thin beam of a flashlight. Oh, shit!
She slipped off the path, stepped on a twig that snapped loudly, then bolted to the far side of a fir tree, where she pressed her back against the rough bole and silently prayed she wouldn't be discovered.
"What was that?" a voice that she recognized as belonging to Reva Mercado whispered.
Monica's heart sank. Reva Mercado was tough and smart and blessed with a mercurial temper that Monica had witnessed more than once. Monica didn't trust her, and she sure as hell didn't like her. The flashlight beam quit bobbing, remaining steady. Footsteps halted. The thin stream of illumination swept the surrounding area as whoever was holding it attempted to find the source of the noise.
Monica tried to meld into the rough bark of the tree, to disappear. She couldn't risk the chance of them finding her when she intended to leave them all stranded. Her mind raced. What would she say if they found her hiding in the woods? That she had to pee? Or that she'd heard them coming, seen their flashlight, and hidden because she'd thought maybe Reverend Dalton or one of his sons was on patrol?
"What?" The voice that answered belonged to Jo-Beth Chancellor.
Excerpted from You Will Pay by LISA JACKSON. Copyright © 2017 Lisa Jackson LLC. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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