WEB OF SMOKE Excerpt
Trade Paperback and E-book, Books We Love Publishing, February 2012
The year is 1994
Christie McCoy had spent the entire day in a state of agitated suspense. Waiting. For what, she didn’t know.
She cut the engine as the garage door swished closed and sat for a quiet moment in the dimness of the garage while the feeling passed over her again. Pulling her blouse away from her sweaty skin, she stepped from her car.
Blazing hot and dusty dry, the day had started with the howl of a Santa Ana wind blowing in from the desert. A howl that played on her nerves, lacing her thoughts with dread.
She unlocked the front door and went inside, clicking the door shut behind her. Turning her gaze from the silent, vacant living room with its bare windows and walls, and her thoughts from the persistent pulse of anxiety, she started up the stairs. Her hand lightly brushed the blond banister; her footsteps echoed in the emptiness.
At the top, she paused, looking over her shoulder as she’d done countless times that day. Below she could see the front door, part of the unfurnished living room, and the gleaming wooden hallway that led to the kitchen. Sunshine blanketed all in a glowing honey caress.
Hesitating, her body tuned to the slightest change in the house, she listened to the silence. Her ears rang with the effort, but she heard nothing. Nothing to warrant her jumpy nerves or fragmented tension. Nothing to explain the feeling of impending doom. Nothing but a hot wind blowing anxiety through her very bones.
She shook herself, physically—mentally—and con¬tinued down the short, open landing that connected the three bedrooms and one bathroom. She entered the mas¬ter bedroom, unable to prevent one last look over her shoulder.
Which is why she didn’t see him until a floorboard squealed under his weight.
The sound rushed at her, spinning her back around to face him. He sprang from the concealing folds of the only drapes in the house and raced at her.
Fear swallowed her in one monstrous mouthful.
Christie acted on the thought, turning with it and stumbling toward the landing, which suddenly seemed to double, triple in length as her body seemed to shrink. One step. Had it really taken all that time to take that one little step?
Two steps. She had maybe four or five to go. And then what? She glanced behind her.
The man cleared the doorway and in one lunge was directly behind her. She saw his leather-covered hands clench and unclench. She could sense his breath, impos¬sibly hot, as he bore down on her.
Christie’s scream pierced the silence like fingernails on a chalkboard as she snapped her face forward. Be¬hind her, she felt him leap, felt the floor sag under the powerful thrust of his deceptively lean legs, and then give like a sprung rubber band as he sailed in the air.
She crossed the bedroom doorway just as his fist closed around the silky fabric of her blouse. His fingers clawed her skin as he jerked her backward.
Her center of gravity shifted, sinking down and down, sucking her under. She hit the floor hard and bit her tongue. The copper taste of blood filled her mouth.
Scrambling to her knees, she scurried toward the stairs. He grabbed her ankle, closed it in a viselike grip, and yanked. She fought him, grasping desperately for something to hold. She clenched the fibers of the carpet, anything to keep her from being pulled back. She gained an inch.
Enraged, he wrenched hard on her leg, dragging her, snapping her nails to the quick. A deep-throated cry burst from her lungs and slammed past her lips.
“NO!” she screamed, struggling against his force. He crushed her ankle in his fist, hauling her to him with a strength beyond his size. Writhing, kicking, she managed to flip over onto her back. Her blouse pulled loose from the waist of her skirt and the rug scorched her bare skin.
Holding on to her leg, he swooped, clamping his other hand on her short hair. He jerked hard.
She felt hot tears on her cold face and panic torched her stomach. Her brain quit sending clear signals of action. Instead, a blistering jolt of adrenaline moved her without thought.
“Let go of me NOW!”
She punctuated the last word with a kick. No time to aim, she drove the heel of her shoe at him. It skidded over his arm, leaving a deep, ugly welt in its wake, and plowed into his iron-hard ribcage.
Stunned, his hand opened into a frozen claw of sur¬prise and pain. She jerked her head away just as he realized his mistake. Incensed, he wrenched her still-captive foot viciously.
Her screams echoed one after another through the open foyer, pounding against the walls and doubling back on her. She kicked again and again, frantically back-paddling against the coarse carpet. A lucky shot clipped him on the jaw; a follow-up sent him backward into the bedroom.
Still screaming, Christie scrambled to her feet, fell, hauled herself up using the railing. Behind her she heard him leap to his feet. She took the stairs two at a time, stumbling as she went. Six steps down, his hand connected with the back of her head. He shoved.
Arms and feet waving, she plunged forward. The cream-and-peach ceramic tile by the door zoomed up as her body catapulted down. Instinctively, she tucked and curled, crying out when her body slammed to the floor.
No time to catch her breath; no time to check her injuries. His heavy footsteps raced down to her. She launched herself at the front door, yanking it open.
His shoulder caught it halfway and he slammed it closed. Not missing a beat, she ducked under his arm and darted into the vacant living room. She lost a shoe as she rounded the corner, through the dining room to the kitchen.
He’d expected her move, circling the other way, down the hall to the tableless breakfast nook. On opposite sides of the kitchen, they faced each other.
Blood ran from his nose and an ugly gash on his cheek. Watching her with cold, blue eyes, he wiped at his face.
He stepped forward, placing himself between Christie and the phone.
“What do you want?” she cried, her voice a hoarse shadow of terror.
He smiled and winked. A chill of recognition teased her memory, then vanished like a puff of smoke in the wind. Who was he? She shook her head in response to her unspoken question.
“I don’t want much of nothing,” he said, licking his lips. His voice was as soft as silk, as rough as sandpa¬per. He winked again. “I was just wondering, little miss. Does your mama know where you’ve been?”
The blood washed from her face in an icy wave.
Eyes riveted on him, she anticipated his intention a second before he charged. Leaping back through the dining room doorway, she hit the floor. She couldn’t outrun him but she’d be damned if she’d lie down and die for him.
Braced with her back against the wall, she drew her knees to her chest. Her lips moved over silent words of panic. “Okay, okay, this is it...please...please, please...”
He rounded the door like a charging bull.
Waiting until he was directly in front of her, she thrust her legs out, throwing all her weight and power into them. Her feet slammed into the side of his knee, forcing it to bend in the wrong direction.
Her battle cry came from her gut, reverberating and hammering in her body as it rose up her throat and erupted from her open mouth.
He swayed for a moment, trying to regain his bal¬ance. Pulling back, she aimed another kick at his legs. She heard a pop; he hit the floor.
Frozen by terror, she forced herself to attack again. The pointed toe of her shoe buried itself in his abdo¬men. He groaned, rolled, and gripped his ribs, and for one split second, left himself totally vulnerable.
Christie pounced, using her one shoe-clad foot to drive the power of her terror and rage deep into his groin. His breath exploded in a squeal clogged by pain.
Gulping, she staggered back, tripped over her fear, and caught herself against the wall. She left a bloody splash of red on the white paint.
Run, Christie, run.
The voice could have come from outside her head. The voice of a drill sergeant, a commander. The voice of authority that moved her with lightning speed. And suddenly, it seemed to her that everything was moving too fast. Like a record switched from 33 RPMs to 78. She flew to the front door and out into the blazing sunshine.
“Help me!” Her cry caught in her throat and whimpered into the afternoon.
Like a dream, she thought, like a dream where you can’t scream. She tried again.
“Help me!” This time it rang out, carrying across the emerald lawns, the tended shrubs, reverberating against the sizzling asphalt. “Somebody call the police. Please, help me.”
The street was totally quiet. A void of action in the blistering heat. She ran. Horror kept her from looking over her shoulder, but hysteria won the battle and swiveled her head.
He hadn’t followed.
Gulping at the taste of fear, she slowed, turning all the way around and backing away. She crossed the street, stopping by a tree.
The front door of her house gaped like an open sore. In the shadows nothing moved. Where was he?
She heard the whine of a siren in the distance. Relief made a very small sensation in the churning whirlpool of emotions swamping her.
She began to shake uncontrollably, her knees gave, and she sank to the soft grass. She needed a drink of water; she had to go to the bathroom. She wanted to let loose the anguished rage in her belly. Instead, she watched her front door.
The siren grew louder and a black-and-white—San Diego’s Finest—pulled up to the curb. Christie stayed where she was.
The officer who bounded from the car had a gun and looked as if he knew how to use it. His badge glinted in the harsh sunlight as he crouched and approached the house. He turned every third step and checked his back. At the door, he paused. Ridiculously, or so it seemed to Christie, he rang the bell. “Police,” he called into the house. His voice carried, clear and decisive.
A second police car skidded to a stop in front of her house. This policeman was bigger, but equally cautious. He maneuvered himself to the first man’s side.
Christie didn’t know if the officer received an answer to his call, but both men unsnapped their guns and swiveled inside.
Minutes—or maybe hours—ticked by, barely pene¬trating the husk of numbness that surrounded her. She really had to use the bathroom. The first officer came out of her house, holstering his gun on the way. He spotted Christie across the street, and, still checking his back, approached.
Crouching down in front of Christie, he eyed her torn blouse and blood-speckled body. “Are you hurt?”
She rubbed her bruised ankle and flexed her foot. “I don’t think so.”
Silently, she held up her hand. He looked at the raw fingertips that used to have nails and then back at her face.
“Your neighbor called the police. Said you were screaming.”
Christie looked over his shoulder at the front door. “Did you get him?”
He stared at her for a minute. “The house is empty, ma’am. Officer Johnson is pursuing. Can you tell me what happened?”
Christie didn’t answer. Her eyes fixed uneasily on the badge that glinted on his chest.
“Ma’am? An ambulance is on the way. Could you answer a few questions? It could help us find—”
Christie shook her head, tuning out his gentle voice. Instead she saw the attacker’s eyes, heard again his voice.
Eyes, as cold as the Arctic...a voice as haunting as the elusive snatches of an almost-remembered song. Both as indistinct as the shifting shapes in an obscurely shadowed alley.
She understood, at last, what she’d been waiting for all day. Unfortunately, with the understanding came the undeniable realization that she’d been waiting much longer than a day.
And the waiting had only just begun.
Order Web of Smoke:
Reissue from 10/94 mass market paperback w/a Erin Grady
Trade Paperback and E-book
Books We Love Publishing
Pub. Date: February 2012
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