About the Author
Julie Miller is an award-winning author--with a National Readers Choice, a Daphne du Maurier and a PRISM among other prizes. She's been a finalist in several other venues, including the Golden Heart and Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Some of her 30+ books have appeared on the USA Today and Waldenbooks bestseller lists. Find out more at www.juliemiller.org.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Oh God. In her sleep, Liza Parrish rolled over and tried to wake herself up. It was happening again. And she couldn't stop it.
"Shh, baby. Shush."
Liza closed her hand around the dog's muzzle and hunched down closer beside him in his hiding spot in the shadowy alley. The fact that he didn't protest the silencing touch was evidence of just how close to starvation this furry bag of skin and bones was.
He was lucky she'd come here after classes and work tonight, following up on a call to the shelter about an emaciated stray wandering the dock area that neither the county's Animal Control Unit nor the Humane Society had been able to catch. She'd get him back to the vet's office where she was interningfeed him a little bit of food and water, run some tests to make sure he wasn't infected with heartworm or some other debilitating disease, give him some love and a bath, and maybe just save his life.
But who was going to save her ?
She hoped the dog was the only one who could hear her heart thumping over the whoosh of the Missouri River, surging past only a few yards away.
Trying to calm herself so the dog wouldn't panic and give away their position, Liza blinked the dampness of the foggy night from her eyelashes. If only she could blink away the stench of wet dog and old garbage just as easily. If only she could blink herself to safety.
Her leg muscles were beginning to cramp in protest against just how long she'd been curled up with the knee-high terrier mix, hiding behind the trash cans and plastic bags that smelled as if they could have been left in this alley off the river docks ever since the warehouses on either side had closed. She was tired, aching, chilled to the boneand scared out of her mind.
But she wasn't about to move.
Hearing two gun shots from the other side of the brick wall she huddled against did that to a woman.
Watching the two men waiting in the black car parked only ten, maybe twenty feet from her hiding space also kept her rooted to the spot. Her jeans were soaking up whatever oily grime filled the puddle where she crouched. The only warmth she could generate were the hot tears stinging her eyes and trickling down her cheeks.
Was this what it had been like for her parents and for Shasta? Endlessly waiting for death to find her. Fighting back the terror that churned her stomach into an acid bath. Driving herself crazy trying to decide whether, if she was discovered, it was smarter to fight or run for her life.
She felt her parents' terror. Felt her pet's confusion as he valiantly tried to protect them. Felt their senseless loss all over again.
And she had a ringside seat.
The dog squirmed in her arms and Liza absently began to stroke his belly, feeling each and every rib. "Shh, baby." She mouthed the words. She wasn't the only witness to this crime.
Almost of their own volitionmaybe it was a subconscious survival streak kicking inher eyes began to take note of the details around her.
Black car. Big model. Missouri plate B ? Or was that an 8? Oh hell. She couldn't make out the number without moving.
But she could see the men inside. She had a clear look at the driver, at least. He was a muscular albino man, with hair as shockingly white as the tattoos twining around his arms and neck were boldly colored. In the passenger seat beside him sat a black man. He was so tall that his face was hidden by the shadows near the roof of the car's interior. She could tell he was built like a lineman because he was having a devil of a time finding room enough to maneuver himself into his suit jacket.
The size of the black man was frightening enough, but the albino looked crazy scary, like he'd beat the crap out of anyone who stared crosswise at him.
She was staring now. Stop it!
Liza closed her eyes and turned away. She could note any damn detail she wanted, but if those crazy colorless eyes spotted her, she was certain there'd be no chance to tell anyone what she'd seen.
The gunshots had rent the air only a couple of minutes ago, but it felt like hours had passed before she heard the next sound. The sticky, raspy grind of metalon metal as someone opened the front door of the warehouse and closed it with an ominous clank behind him. At the sharp bite of heels against the pavement, she opened her eyes again. The black man was getting out of the car with an umbrella, opening the back door.
"No, Liza. Don't look." It was almost as if she could hear her mother's voice inside her head, warning her to turn away from the eyes of a killer. "It'll hurt too much."
"But I need to see," she argued, feeling the tears welling up and clogging her sinuses again. "It's the only way I'll be free of this nightmare."
"Don't look, sweetie. Don't look."
"I have to."
Liza squinted hard, catching sight of the back of a pinstriped suit climbing into the backseat of the car.
"No!" She threw her head back. She'd missed him. She hadn't seen the man who'd fired the gunshots.
The next several minutes passed by in a timeless blur. The car drove away. She'd seen fogged up windows, and a face through the glass. But it had been too vague. Too fast.
She didn't know what the third man looked like.
As she had dreamed so many times before, what happened next was as unclear as the mist off the river that filled the air. But Liza was inside the warehouse now, cradling the weightless black and tan dog in her arms, creeping through the shadows.
If there were gunshots, if there were killers, then there must be
"Oh, my God."
Liza had no free hand to stifle her shock or the pitying sob that followed.
In the circle of harsh lamplight cast by the bare bulb hanging over the abandoned office door was a man. Lying in a spreading pool of blood beside an overturned chair, his broken, bruised body had been laid out in a mock expression of reverence. His twisted fingers were folded over his stomach. The jogging suit he wore had been zipped to the neck, and the sleeve had been used to wipe the blood from his face.
"Stay with me, baby." She set the dog on the floor, keeping one foot on the leash she'd looped around his neck in case he should find the energy to try to run from her again. Although she was in grad school learning how to treat animals, not humans, she knelt beside the man's carefully arranged body and placed two shaking fingers to the side of his neck. She already knew he was dead.
"Remember." Liza heard the voice inside her head. Not her own. Not her mother's. "Remember."
Barely able to see through her tears, Liza pulled her cell phone from her pocket and turned it on. She punched in 9-1-1. "I need to report a murder."
"Shut up." She tried to silence the voice in her head. She wasn't on the phone anymore. She was kneeling beside the body, reaching out to him.
The dead man's eyes popped open.
Liza screamed. She tried to scoot away. "No!"
His bloody hand caught hers in an ice-cold grip and he jerked his face right up to hers. "Remember!"
"No-o-o!" Liza's own screams woke her from her nightmare. She thrashed her way up to a sitting position. Panting hard, she was barely able to catch her breath. And though she felt the haunting chill of her cursed dreams deep in her soul, she was burning up.
"What the hell? What
She became aware of wiping her hands frantically, and then she stilled.
On the very next breath she snatched up the pen and notepad from her bedside table, just as she had been trained to do. Write down every detail she remembered from her dream before the memories eluded her. Dead body. Cold hand.
"Remember," she pleaded aloud. Before the body. There were gunshots. She put pen to paper. "Dead man. Two shots." And
"Damn it!" Liza hurled the pen and pad across the room into a darkness as lonely and pervasive as the shadows locked up inside her mind.
A low-pitched woof and a damp nuzzle against her hand reminded her she wasn't alone. She was home. She was safe. She flipped on the lamp beside her bed and with the light, her senses returned.
Three sets of eyes stared at her.
She could almost smile. Almost. "Sorry, gang."
The warm, wet touch on her fingers was a dog's nose. She quickly scooped the black and tan terrier mix into her lap and hugged him, scratching his flanks as she rocked back and forth. Liza couldn't feel a single rib on him now. "Good boy, Bruiser. Thanks for taking care of Mama. I'm sorry she scared you."
Not for the first time Liza wondered if the scrappy little survivor remembered that night more clearly than her own fog of a memory allowed her to. She traced the soft white stripe at the top of his head. "I wish you could tell me what we saw. Then we could make this all go away."
But she and her little guardian weren't alone. The nightmare might have chilled her on the inside, but her legs were toasty warm, caught beneath a couple of quilts and the lazy sprawl of her fawn-colored greyhound, Cruiser. "So I woke you, too, huh?"
Cruiser outweighed Bruiser by a good sixty pounds, and could easily outrun him, but a guard dog she was not. She was the cuddler, the comforter, the pretty princess who preferred to offer the warmth of her body rather than her concern. Liza reached down and stroked the dog's sleek, muscular belly as she rolled onto her back. "I know you're worried, too, deep down inside. I wish I could be as serene and content as you."
And then, of course, there was the furry monster by the door. Yukon's dark eyes reflected the light with something like contempt at the disruption of his sleep. Despite weeks of training and all the patience she could muster, the silvery gray malamute had yet to warm up to her. No amount of coaxing, not even a treat, could lu...