Excerpt: Malevolent

Excerpt: Malevolent

Book 1: Shaye Archer Series

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

See how they run. See how they run.

They all ran after the farmer’s wife

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife.

Did you ever see such a sight in your life

As three blind mice?

 

Prologue

Algiers Point, Orleans Parish

June 8, 2015

Emma Frederick bolted upright in bed, her pulse racing. She blinked, unsuccessfully trying to make out anything in the dark room. Storm clouds forming had completely eclipsed the moon, leaving the inside of the house as pitch black as the lawn outside. And a lamp was out of the question. At least for now.

She desperately wanted to dismiss her reaction as the result of a bad dream, but she knew that was a lie. She’d barely fallen asleep when something sent her heart into the stratosphere. She sat perfectly still, holding her breath, praying that her fear was a result of PTSD or an anxiety attack. Seconds ticked slowly by, each one met with absolute silence, and her pulse began to decrease.

Slowly, she let out her breath, feeling some of the tension leave her shoulders and back. It was nothing. Just her overactive imagination or screwed-up mental state. Or both. She wished things would get back to normal. Whatever that looked like.

Crrrrreeeeeaaaaaaakkkkkkk.

The sound of the loose step on the interior stairwell sent her body back into overdrive. The night was still. The storm clouds hung over the house, but right now, it was the calm before the storm. No wind at all. Just overwhelming New Orleans humidity. Nothing to cause the old house to make noise on its own.

Someone was coming up the stairs.

She launched into action, silently sliding off the bed and onto the rug. She rose up on her knees and pulled the covers up to make it look as if the bed had not been occupied, then crawled along the carpet runner until she reached the closet. The well-oiled door had been left open a crack, and she pulled it back enough to enter, then crawled inside, closing the door behind her. She pushed her way through the bottoms of several low-hanging dresses and slid the hidden panel on the back wall to the side. She lowered herself a bit more and crawled through the small cutout and into the black space beyond.

Damn it!

She froze for a moment, cursing herself for forgetting her pistol under her pillow. She’d practiced this at least ten times the day before. Why didn’t she get it right?

It was too late to go back for the gun now, so she continued along her escape route. The room behind the closet ran the twelve-foot length of the bedroom but was a narrow three feet wide. It had seemed enormous when she was five years old, but twenty years later, it felt as if the walls were closing in on her, slowly sucking the air out of the room. She inched her way to the far end of the pitch-black space and huddled against the wall, waiting.

The master bedroom was the first bedroom the intruder would come to. That’s where he would expect to find her. She’d left the bed linens in that room rumpled and the window next to the master bathroom toilet opened a crack. A huge oak tree stood just outside, an enormous branch creating a wooden walkway almost right up to the side of the house. A moderately athletic person would have no trouble getting out that window and into the tree. Emma was more than capable of doing it and hoped her intruder thought so as well.

The screech of old hinges echoed through the house and she knew he’d pushed open the door to the master bedroom. She forced herself to breathe normally, in and out, in and out, trying to keep her mind clear and ready to react if her ruse didn’t work. Every second that passed, she prayed she’d hear retreating steps on the stairwell, but when the next sound came, she realized he was coming down the hall to the bedroom she’d been sleeping in. Her childhood bedroom.

Her pulse spiked and her head suddenly felt lighter. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then slowly let it out, trying to force the dizziness away. The door to the bedroom creaked open and she heard him step inside. She clenched her hands, feeling her nails digging into the soft skin on her palms. One second, two seconds, three. How long was he going to stand there? She heard another footstep and prayed that he was leaving, and then it started.

So low and light that at first, she thought she was imagining it.

But then the whistling grew stronger.

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

Both hands flew up and she clenched her mouth, stifling the scream that was straining to get out.

It couldn’t be him.

See how they run. See how they run.

She knew it was impossible, but she had to be sure. Had to prove to herself that it was someone else. Before she could change her mind, she removed one hand from her mouth and used it to push herself up from the floor. Inch by inch she rose until she was standing straight up. She couldn’t see a thing in the inky black, but she knew where to find the plug she’d carefully placed in the wall the day before. She ran her hand over the wall until she felt the surface variation.

She removed her other hand from her mouth and used both to gently ease the tiny plug from the wall. Leaning forward, she placed her eye right up to the hole and peered into the bedroom. A penlight flashed a beam across the bed, then toward the closet. A dark figure moved along the path of the penlight, only a faint outline of his body visible. She held her breath as he opened the closet door. If he found her hiding place, it was all over.

Sweat formed on her brow and the drops of salty liquid ran into her eyes, making them burn. The closet door closed, and she could have wept with relief. The footsteps continued across the floor and she saw the shadowy figure moving back toward the hallway. She blinked to try to clear her blurry vision, straining to make out something that would tell her who he was.

As he started to leave the bedroom, someone slammed a car door, and he looked back. At that exact moment, the storm clouds parted enough to let a sliver of moonlight into the room, and his face was illuminated.

Her body went completely rigid and her heart pounded so hard she thought her chest would burst. Warm urine ran down her leg and trickled onto the floor around her feet. It couldn’t be him. It wasn’t possible.

She’d killed him last month.

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