Authors: Leslie Parrish
Tags: #Romance / Suspense
Table of Contents
Praise for the Novels of Leslie Parrish
Black at Heart
“Dark, edgy, fantastic romantic suspense that readers and reviewers all over the Web are buzzing about.”
—All About Romance
“The emotional layers in this book, the descriptions, the plotting, the characterizations are rich and satisfying.”
“Parrish’s Black CATs novels are taut, exciting, sweet, dark, and hot all at the same time.”
—Errant Dreams Reviews
“Superbly written and thoroughly engrossing.”
—All About Romance
“The ultimate edge-of-your-seat thriller.”
“Parrish creates a heart-stomping story that takes you to the edge of your seat.”
—The Romance Readers Connection
Fade to Black
“Compelling, hold-your-breath romantic suspense with one of the most chillingly evil villains I’ve ever read.”
New York Times
bestselling author JoAnn Ross
“All in all,
Fade to Black
“A trifecta of good romantic suspense: good characters, good romance, and good suspense.”
—All About Romance
“Dark suspense, sexy heroes, fiendish villains, and fantastic writing.”
—Award-winning author Roxanne St. Claire
ALSO BY LESLIE PARRISH
The Black CATs Novels
Fade to Black
Black at Heart
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, July 2010
Copyright © Leslie Kelly, 2010
eISBN : 978-1-101-18841-5
All rights reserved
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To my big, wild, crazy “Smith” family: Dad, Toni, Lynn, Chris, Donna, Paul, Karen, Cheri, Lee, Holly. Thanks so much for your constant support and enthusiasm.
No author ever had a greater cheering section.
I love you all. And your kids are pretty cool, too!
To Bruce—thanks for being such a great sounding board . . . and husband! Up for another screenplay?
To my editor, Laura Cifelli—I really appreciate your encouraging me to test and stretch my writing boundaries on this one.
As always, thanks to the Plotmonkeys—Julie, Janelle, and Karen—for your invaluable assistance in plotting this story, and in helping me work out the kinks along the way.
Many thanks to Silver, Heather, Liza, Paula, Stacey, and other bloggers who were so supportive in helping to get word out about my books. Your efforts are sincerely appreciated.
Thursday, 5:45 a.m.
Until last night, nobody had ever read Vonnie Jackson a bedtime story.
Though she’d lived for seventeen years, she couldn’t remember a single fairy tale, one whispered nightie-night, or a soft kiss on the cheek before being tucked in. Her mother had always been well into her first bottle, her second joint, or her third john of the evening long before Vonnie fell asleep. Bedtime usually meant hiding under the bed or burrowing beneath a pile of dirty clothes in the closet, praying Mama didn’t pass out, leaving one of her customers to go prowling around in their tiny apartment.
They definitely hadn’t wanted to read to her. Nobody had.
So to finally hear innocent childhood tales from a psychotic monster who intended to kill her was almost as unfair as her ending up in this nightmare to begin with.
“Are you listening to me?” His pitch rose, her captor’s voice growing almost mischievous as he added, “Did you fall asleep, little Yvonne?” But that mischief was laced with so much evil that it almost seemed to be a living, breathing thing, as real as the stained, scratchy mattress on which she lay or the metal chains holding her down upon it.
Most times, such as now, the man who’d kidnapped her spoke in a thick, falsetto whisper, his tone happily wicked, like a jolly elf who’d taken up slaughter for the sheer pleasure of it. Every once in a while, though, he got angry and dropped the act. Once or twice, when he’d said a word or two in his normal thick, deep voice, she’d felt a hint of familiarity flit across her mind, as if she’d heard him before, recently. She could never focus on it, though; never place the memory.
Maybe she was crazy. Maybe she just recognized the twisted, full-of-rage quality that made men such as him tick. She’d seen that kind all her life. She’d just never landed in the hands of a homicidal one. Until now.
“Sweet little girl. So weary, aren’t you? I suppose you fell asleep, hmm?”
She shook her head. Even that slight movement sent knives of pain stabbing through her skull and into her brain. Whether that was from the drugs he’d been shoving down her throat or from the punches to the face, she couldn’t say. Probably both. The pills he’d given her hadn’t made the pain go away. Instead they’d intensified it, brought her senses higher until every word was a thundering cry, every hint of light in her eyes as blinding as the sun. And every cruel touch agonizing.
The first beating had hurt. The subsequent ones had nearly sent her out of her mind. Only the solid, steel core of determination deep inside her—which had kept her going despite so many obstacles throughout her life—had kept her from giving in to the urge to beg him to just kill her and put her out of her misery.
“You must want to go to sleep, though.”
“No,” she whispered. “Go on. Don’t stop. I like it.”
Oh, no, she didn’t want to fall asleep, as welcome as it might have been. Because it was while she slept, helpless against sheer exhaustion, lulled by his singsong bedtime stories or unable to fight the effects of the drugs, that he came in and
things to her. She’d awakened once to find him taking pictures of her, naked and posed on the cot. Though his face had been masked—one of those creepy, maniacally smiling “king” masks from the fast-food commercials—he’d rechained her and scurried out as soon as he realized she was fully conscious. As if he didn’t have the balls to risk letting her get a good look at him.
Maybe he’s afraid you’ll escape and be able to identify him
Yeah. And maybe a pack of wolves would rip him to pieces in his own backyard tomorrow. But she doubted it.
One of these times, she suspected she would wake up and find herself in the middle of a rape. So, no, she did not want to fall asleep.
“I don’t know—we’ve read quite a lot. I’m worried you might have nightmares. Did you, last night, after hearing about the little piggies who got turned into bacon and sausage patties?”
She suspected the story didn’t end like that. If it did, parents who called it a bedtime story had a lot to answer for. As for her nightmares . . . Well, she was living one, wasn’t she?
Vonnie swallowed, her thick, dry tongue almost choking her. “I’ll be fine. Please read to me some more.”
The words echoed in the damp, musty basement room in which she’d been imprisoned for three days now. Or four? She had been unable to keep track, even though she had noted the sunshine coming and going again through the tiny window in her cell. She had been too out of it, couldn’t make herself focus.