Her Mother’s Killer
A woman who can’t escape her past.
Althea Johnson would like to leave the past behind. The memories of her mother’s murder lurk in her dreams and someone wants her to remember. Deciding to return to the small Texas town where it took place to deal with the demons from that night.
A man who will do anything to protect her.
Duncan Perry can’t believe his best friend’s little sister has grown into such a wonderful bundle of curves. He is at first stunned by his reaction to her, but never one to be slow, he starts putting the moves on her. It isn’t until he is completely seduced by her that he realizes that she is putting herself in danger to solve the old crime.
A killer who will do anything to possess her.
As both of them fall in love with each other, the stalking and danger escalates. Women close to Althea’s description are being found raped and murdered. The new lovers work overtime to figure out just what went wrong 20 years earlier, not realizing the mysteries they will reveal could jeopardize everything they are fighting for.
This is a reissue and has been edited for content.
Read an Excerpt
A flash of light in Thea Warren’s rearview mirror sent her stomach tumbling.
There isn’t anyone following me.
Several strange letters and a few hang-ups late at night didn’t mean anything. Neighbours from her small subdivision in a rural suburb of Atlanta frequently used this road late at night. No reason for the chills racing down her arms.
She gripped the wheel tighter, her knuckles aching from the pressure. The car drew closer, and she slowed her pace thinking he would pass her. Praying he would. He matched her speed. Panic snaked down her spine.
At least five more miles. She scanned the side of the deserted road. No shoulder and no turnoff before she reached her subdivision.
No one to witness an accident, no one to testify in court.
She shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind.
The light reflected in her mirror brightened then dimmed. He flashed his brights. She sped up. If he wasn’t going to pass her, she was going to try to put some distance between them.
He kept pace, inching closer to her bumper. Sweat gathered between her shoulder blades and dribbled down her back.
If she could keep him away from her bumper for a few more miles, she’d be safe.
“Just a few more miles.” She repeated it over and over like a mantra.
A moment later, the driver slowed down. She sighed but kept her hands tight on the wheel. The wooden fence surrounding her development came into view. A small trickle of relief relaxed the muscles in her shoulders.
Lights flashed in her mirror as the car sped toward her. The bump jolted her. Her tail end fishtailed. Terror screamed through her system. Avoid the brake and turn into the spin.
The moment she straightened the car, the other driver jammed her bumper again. A spike of fear spread through her as the car spun out of control. This time, her whole body flew forward, her hands losing their grip on the steering wheel. She closed her eyes against the dizzying landscape soaring past her window. The car crashed into the mud wall of a ditch. A shard of pain radiated from her forehead after it hit the steering wheel. She blinked, bright stars flashed in front of her eyes. The squeal of the other car’s tires sounded and then everything faded into darkness.
Thea jerked awake.
Where am I?
She sat up. Sitting on the unfamiliar bed, fear slithered down her spine, paralyzing her. Then the scent of stale cigarette smoke filled her senses.
The motel in Vicksburg.
The last cobwebs of the nightmare drifted away. She sighed as the terror drained from her mind.
There was something new about the dream. She could still hear the screams, taste the fear she felt that night. But the dream was sharper than it had been in years. Since her accident six months earlier, her fear achieved a higher level. Somehow, the night of her accident and the night of her mother’s murder had melded together in her subconscious and terrorized her in her dreams. She shivered as a trickle of sweat dripped down between her breasts. She licked her lips, her mouth as dry as cotton.
Thea shoved the covers aside, rose from the bed and padded barefoot to the vanity and flipped on the light, wincing at the harshness of the glare. Her red-rimmed eyes spoke of her lack of sleep and her hair looked like a rat’s nest. She rubbed her temple trying to grasp what the dream had been about.
Screams, yelling, blood-chilling terror. Nothing new.
Every night for months after her mother’s murder, she woke, screaming, her hair soaked with sweat and the stench of death filling her senses. She never remembered what had happened that night almost twenty years ago, but the dreams still haunted her.
Eventually, time had withered the sharpness of the memory, and there were times when all she could remember from the dream were shadows and assumptions. But lately, especially since the letters began arriving, the fog surrounding her memory seemed to be evaporating.
It was one of the reasons she decided to return to Texas after her divorce had been finalized. Going home just might put it all to rest or it could cause her another whole multitude of problems. Either way, she couldn’t sit around waiting for the next incident to occur. It would’ve really driven her insane.
As she undressed, she remembered her ex-husband’s reaction to the letters that had begun arriving five years ago. Jason had accused her of sending the letters to herself for attention. Then about two years ago, she started receiving hang-ups at home. The number had been blocked and she never had any proof of anyone stalking her.
So, she’d tried to ignore it. But during the past year, every now and then, the hair at the nape of her neck stirred as if someone’s gaze followed her every move. She’d made the mistake of telling Jason her worries. Not only had he proclaimed her insane, he’d spread it around work that she’d become delusional. Two weeks later, her one-car accident confirmed everyone’s suspicions.
She sighed once again, shaking free of the morbid memories. Living in the past was what got her in this mess. Stepping into the shower, she allowed the hot water to relax her muscles and numb her mind. She’d worry about the past once she got back to Crocker.
Duncan Perry did a double take at the ruby-red SUV that pulled into the gas station. It wasn’t familiar to him, and neither was the curvy brunette who stepped out to fill it up. In a town of less than five thousand, he knew most everyone, especially the curvy brunettes. Figuring his job as sheriff gave him the opening he needed, he pulled in opposite her on the other side of the pump.
He watched, bemused as she dropped her credit card and cursed. The particular word had him raising his eyebrows. She bent over to pick up the card drawing his attention to the denim material drawing tight over a well rounded ass. He sighed in appreciation and stepped out of his patrol car.
She turned around just as he straightened from the car. The moment their gazes met, she smiled and for a second his mind stopped working. Full, red lips, porcelain skin, marred only by a rash of freckles over an upturned nose and the most amazing green eyes he’d ever seen. He found himself responding in kind.
“Hi.” Her husky voice had a hint of Texas twang.
Heat raced along his nerve endings. “Hi, yourself.”
Her eyes widened slightly at his flirtatious tone, then she laughed. And not a simple little giggle, a flat-out belly laugh.
“I’ve been accused of having a sense of humor from time to time, but I rarely get that kind of reaction from saying hello.”
“I’m sorry, this is just too funny.” She snorted a few times and visibly tried to get her mirth under control. “Wait until I talk to Jed. He’ll get a real kick out of this.”
The mention of his lifelong best friend had his mind reaching a conclusion his body didn’t want to accept. He shook his head. “Thea?”
“In the flesh.” She stepped forward and gave him a quick hug. The feel of her warm curves pressed against him had his blood heading south before she broke the brief contact.
He cleared his throat trying to get his hormones back under control but didn’t have much luck. “I had no idea you were back in town for a visit.”
She cocked her head to one side. “I never said I was here for a visit.”
Oh, yeah, now he could remember that smart mouth. It’d gotten her in more than one argument in school, and with her brother. And if she thought someone wanted something from her, she would make dang sure they didn’t get it.
“Jed didn’t mention you were coming into town.”
She snorted. “Sorry. I forgot to check in with my warden, but Jed doesn’t know. I mentioned I was moving back to Texas, I just hadn’t said where.” She shrugged. “When I decided, he was unreachable.”
On assignment undercover for the Texas Department of Safety is what she meant. “Yeah, he said something about being gone for a while the last time we talked.”
“Anyway, I gotta get going. I’m staying with Gwen Childress and I want to get there before she has to run out for some parent’s meeting or something at the school.”
“Thea, it’s Friday night, in October.” When she looked at him strangely, he said, “Football, darling.”
“Oh, yeah, well they have that in Georgia too, but when you live in a big city…it’s just a little different. And I know Gwen doesn’t like to miss any school events.”
She leaned up on her tiptoes, brushing her lips against his cheek. For a moment, his heart almost stopped at the soft feel of her mouth against his flesh, the spicy scent of her clogging his senses. When she stepped back, he drew in a deep breath, trying to calm his reaction.
“See ya around, Duncan.”
A moment later, he was watching her taillights as she drove down the street. He rubbed the tight ball in his stomach and willed away the attraction. It wasn’t that dating a sister of a friend was that off limits, but seeing that he practically grew up as Thea’s surrogate older brother, it seemed somehow…well, not right.
Sliding into his car, he decided to head back to the office to see if he could locate Jed. It’d be interesting to find out if Jed had any ideas why his sister might be back in town.
Thea dropped the last of her three suitcases on the floor in Gwen’s guest bedroom and then collapsed on the bed closing her eyes. She wasn’t unloading all the pots and pans she’d brought. Those dang things weighed a ton, and even if they were her pride and joy, she figured it wouldn’t hurt to leave them in her vehicle until she moved to her rental house.
God, she was tired. It wasn’t enough that she’d driven the six hours from Vicksburg and looked horrible, she had to run into Duncan Perry. She sighed.
“From the sound of that sigh, you could do with a good cup of coffee.”
Opening her eyes, she smiled at Gwen. A few years older than Thea, Gwen had been one of the few people Thea had kept contact with over the years. Tall, almost six feet, she had the lanky build of a swimmer, lean, muscled, but feminine at the same time. At one time, Gwen and Jed had been a pretty hot item. Everyone had assumed they’d marry, but after their parents’ murders, Jed had broken things off. It had been his last serious relationship.
“Coffee would be fabulous.” She stood and gave Gwen a hug then released her. “It’s good to be back.”
Gwen turned, leading Thea back to the kitchen. “Tough day?”
“You don’t know the half of it. I get here, and the first thing I do is pull into that new convenience store. You know the one Old Man Myers used to run?”
Gwen nodded as she retrieved a couple mugs. “He sold out about three years ago when he decided to retire. Moved down to Corpus Christi.”
Thea took her mug and poured her coffee. As she doctored it with sweetener and lots of cream, she said, “Well, there I was, picking up my credit card, my big butt in the air, and guess who drives up?”
Gwen’s eyes widened as she took a sip. “Who?”
“Duncan Perry.” She snorted. “Just what I needed. The only consolation I have is he didn’t recognize me at first.”
“How do you know that?”
“He was flirting with me.”
There was a beat of silence and then Gwen started laughing. “Oh, my, that must have thrown him for a loop.”
Thea chuckled herself when she remembered the expression on his face. “Yeah, he was mortified.”
“Hmm, mortified is one expression I’ve never seen on his face.”
“Anyway, he tried to find out what I was doing here.”
Gwen laughed. “Yeah, like it’s a big secret. Did you tell him you were moving back?”
“Not in so many words. He said something about talking to Jed, and that just irritated me. I’m almost thirty, I shouldn’t have to check in with my brother.”
“I agree.” Gwen studied her. “You did tell Jed you were moving here, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, well, I said Texas. At the time, I wasn’t sure. Then he went undercover.”
“He isn’t going to be happy.”
“Jed’s never happy. Especially where I’m concerned.”
Gwen didn’t say anything to that as she emptied the rest of her coffee in the sink.
“I have to get changed and get back up to the school.”
Thea nodded. “I figure that Yardley’s Grocery will be dead tonight so I’ll probably run by there and pick up a few things.” When Gwen opened her mouth to argue, Thea stopped her by raising her hand. “No. I need a few things, and really, Gwen, you have…margarine. My little chef’s heart almost died when I saw that.”
She smiled, as Thea had hoped. Stepping forward, she embraced Thea again. “It’s so good to have you back.”
After Gwen released her, Thea watched her walk out of the kitchen. She sighed, thinking of Jed and Gwen. It was always a touchy subject. Thea knew her brother and Gwen still had feelings for each other, but they were too stubborn to change their present course. Everyone had thought they would be married, the date had been discussed, then Jed and Thea’s mother had been killed and her father disappeared. Everything fell apart for both of them at that point.
Gwen had tried marriage once, divorcing after a couple years. There was something about the way she avoided the subject, the sad look in her eyes that told Thea it hadn’t been a pleasant marriage. But knowing how much Jed irritated her when he butted into her life, Thea had decided not to interfere. Even if her heart ached for the two people she loved most in the world.
She shook herself and decided to make a list and head to Yardley’s. As tired as she was, she would be lucky if she stayed awake long enough to put the groceries away.
Fifteen minutes later, she slipped into her SUV, her mind still on the things she needed to buy. It wasn’t until she pulled out of the drive and was heading down the street that she noticed the piece of paper sitting on the passenger’s seat.
Her heart stuttered then dropped to her stomach as she pulled over to the side of the road. Fingers trembling, she unfolded the paper.
Thea, my love, you have returned. I’m watching over you. I am the only one who understands you.
Even as fear coiled at the base of her spine, her mind shifted through the evidence. Carefully, she folded the note and dropped it into her console storage. There wouldn’t be any fingerprints and no one really knew she was there, not yet. Only people who’d seen her come into town, would have known.
Or someone who had been watching all along.
Happiness warmed him as he thought of her.
My Thea, my love. She’d finally returned to him. He shivered as he thought of the way she looked at the gas station. So beautiful…so pure.
Of course, she didn’t understand. He knew she didn’t. But he would make her see. She would realize they were meant to be. No one stood in their way. They would be together for eternity. Nothing would touch them. And she had returned to him. It was a sign.
But until she understood, until she accepted her destiny, he had to satisfy this need, this lust.
A young woman, cute, dark-haired stood by the side of the road. He slowed down and she ran to catch up to him. He rolled down the window and she leaned into the car. He smiled when he saw her green eyes.
Oh, she’d do just fine for now.
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