Authors: Ninie Hammon
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Psychological Thrillers, #Religion & Spirituality, #Fiction, #Literature & Fiction, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Contemporary, #Inspirational, #Thrillers, #Psychological, #The Last Safe Place
S EYES SUDDENLY POPPED OPEN
, pain and blood were still several minutes away, tucked securely into the glove box of the future, snug as a map of Idaho.
She shook her head fiercely to dislodge the tattered, gauzy remnants of sleep so she could focus. That’s when she sensed his presence, maybe even smelled him—a sickly sweet aroma like decay.
In the house!
A clap of thunder rumbled brutally loud and she jumped, uttered a little peep of a scream. She scooted to the edge of the bed and stared out her bedroom window where writhing lightning torched the night sky behind the silver worms of rain squiggling down the glass.
No! It’s not supposed to storm tonight!
Gabriella had checked and rechecked the forecast—cloudy, just
—but had propped herself up on pillows to stare into the darkness until dawn anyway. She’d done the same thing when she couldn’t sleep the night before. And the night before that.
How could she possibly have drifted off
Dropped her guard like that
With her heart banging against the walls of her chest like a sperm whale in a fish tank, Gabriella struggled to look at every square inch of the room at the same time. Was he actually here … maybe even in the bedroom? She began to tremble so violently she was afraid the bedsprings would squeak from the movement, and she had to be quiet!
As her eyes darted from the empty doorway to the shadowed dressing table to the hulking armoire in a herky-jerky motion that made seeing anything all but impossible, a voice from that maddeningly reasonable part of her mind began to plead its case before the High Court of Common Sense.
How could Yesheb possibly be in the house? There was an armed guard patrolling the property—
with a pit bull!
And a brand new security system. Besides that, P.D. was right across the hall. He might be a golden retriever, but he’d at least bark to
She let out the breath she’d been holding and almost giggled in the flood of sweet relief that washed over her. She’d trust Puppy Dog’s nose over technology any day. He would—
P.D. wasn’t here!
He’d gone to the guest house with Ty to spend the night with Theo.
Rationality still refused to budge.
Yesheb had obeyed the restraining order, had remained obediently one hundred feet away from her at all times, and the man had never done anything as drastic as this, as breaking into her house!
And that’s a valid argument? He isn’t here now because he’s never been here before?
Come on, Gabriella. You’re just overreact—
It’s after Good Friday. It’s a full moon. It’s storming outside. He’s
She gasped, the intake of air so abrupt and urgent she almost started coughing. Instead, she stopped breathing altogether. Between the lightning flashes and accompanying rumbles … underneath the silence that thundered in heartbeat bursts in her ears … was a noise. A small sound, really, but a noise even one of those mindless idiots in horror movies would consider sinister. Gabriella certainly did since she’d made a Note to Self only a few hours earlier that she needed to get the handyman to put a new brass kick plate on the bottom of the door that led from the side entrance of the house into the kitchen. Something—or some
, probably Ty—had bent the edge of the plate and now it dragged across the Moroccan tiles with a scraping sound that she could hear
Only that was absurd. She couldn’t possibly hear that door scrape way up here on the second floor. She held her breath, strained to hear with every ounce of concentration—
There is it was again! The scraping sound. But the sound wasn’t coming from downstairs. It was coming from across the hall, from her son’s bedroom. That made no sense at all because the floor in Ty’s room was carpeted.
Air exploded out of her lungs and she bit down so hard to stifle the accompanying scream that she tasted blood in her mouth.
The old baby monitor!
Ty had found it in the back of his closet and she had been pretending for days she didn’t know the boy was using it to eavesdrop on conversations all over the house. She’d spotted the sending unit hidden behind the sugar canister on the kitchen counter before supper tonight.
He must have left the receiving unit turned on in his bedroom!
She grabbed the telephone on the nightstand beside the bed, wrestled the receiver off the cradle with shaking hands and put it to her ear. No dial tone. She stifled a small sob and felt around for her iPhone in the slot in her Bose SoundDock speakers where she’d set it last night to blast out rap music—she
rap music—to keep her awake. She located it—whimpering now—picked it up and then fumbled it in her shaking hands. It fell into her rumpled sheets and she dug around frantically trying to find it in the dark. Wanting to scream. Knowing she couldn’t.
HE SCRAPING SOUND
stops Yesheb in his tracks. He waits, his breathing even and steady. But he is committed now, halfway through the door. It will scrape again no matter which way he moves it, so he pushes it forward and steps silently into the kitchen. Then he pauses to listen.
Yesheb hears the scuttling cockroaches in the wall behind the kitchen sink—evolutionary perfection, creatures of his realm. He hears the squeak of the air conditioner fan in the basement HVAC unit and the movement of the air through the ductwork. He hears the flutter of an owl’s wings in the tree by the porch, the whisper of spiders spinning webs behind the couch and … that sound, beating at the edge of his hearing. Could that be the mad, terrified, thumping of Zara’s heart? Does she know he’s here?
He hopes so!
Yesheb throws back his head and laughs uproariously without making a sound.
Then he follows the scent of her fear, moving as silently as a daddy long legs across the kitchen, through the dining room to the living room. His shoes cleave the lush pile of the carpet and the sound purrs softly in his ears.
He has never been inside her house, and the essence of her all around him is almost overwhelming. He can sense her everywhere, the way a bloodhound can still smell a person long after they have left the room. He pauses to breathe her in and his heart responds to her nearness, begins to beat faster. He continues across the darkened room, bumps a table in his haste and reaches out with feline grace to catch a blown glass vase before it hits the floor. The vase shimmers in the sudden white glow of lightning from the window, either black or blood red, impossible to tell without turning on the lights. Yesheb could do that, of course; he does not fear detection. But darkness is always preferable to light. Its sensuous warmth caresses his skin, oils it as he glides in and out of puddles of shadow.
Yesheb draws power from fear, the spawn of darkness, and he feels his strength building. Zara is afraid of him. Her terror pulses off her, disturbs the air around her. Of course, she
him! Every woman wants him. But she’s afraid he’ll hurt her—and she has every right to be. The thought of her delicious screams shoots through his body like a low-power electric shock. Oh, he will not cause her so much pain that enduring it makes her strong. No, just enough, a sweet agony tart as lemon juice, an ever-present debilitating, demoralizing torment. Just enough so she cowers in his presence and cringes when he draws near her.
He does not want her love; he wants her fear. That will bind his bride to him forever.
ABRIELLA KNEW SHE
had only seconds to decide what to do, no margin for error, no mulligans. Her bed was unmade, her sheets still warm. He’d know she’d just left—hiding was futile. She had to run.
She flew to the door of her room in bare feet with her long, white nightgown whipping around her legs. Lightning shattered like bright mirrors into sharp silver fragments outside her window; thunder rattled the glass. She couldn’t think with her heart hammering in her ears louder than the thunder.
Yesheb didn’t know which bedroom was hers; he’d have to look in them all and hers was the last one, at the end of the hall across from the back staircase. If she could get to the back stairs before he appeared in the hallway from the front stairs ...
She peeked around the door jamb.
The night light at the base of the stairs cast a pale yellow glow up the steps—backlighting a grotesquely pointed shadow moving slowly up the wall, its edges as jagged as a shard of glass. She watched, spellbound, like a mouse staring into the eyes of a cobra, as the shadow reached the top step and spread out thick as tar on the hallway floor. She knew the man who owned it was only a step or two behind.
The fine down of blond hair on her arms instantly stood on end, popped upright by goose bumps. She flattened herself against the wall by the door, panting, her face wet. Was she crying? No, it was sweat, fear sweat! She heard a faint squeak, the familiar, carpet-muffled cry of the top stair tread. She pressed herself tighter against the wall and held her breath, afraid Yesheb could hear her ragged, shuddery breathing.
He’d search each room as he came to it, wouldn’t he? He’d stop first at the room at the top of the stairs. It was the only one of the six upstairs bedrooms where the furniture was arranged so the bed was not visible from the doorway. He’d have to take two or three steps into the room to see the bed was empty. That was all the time she’d have to dash across the hall and disappear down the back stairs.
She visualized where he must be. Top of the stairs now. Crossing the hall. She counted the seconds—one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. He should be inside the room ...
Gabriella leapt out the door.
And slammed into Yesheb’s chest.
She screamed, the sound of fabric ripping into two shredded pieces. Then she fell back from him and banged her head painfully on the wall behind her.
“Again,” he cried, his eyes wild. “Scream again!”
She shrieked louder, a cry of horror more than fear. Yesheb standing in the shadowy hallway, huge, dressed in black, his face twisted in that smirking smile was the single most monstrous sight she had ever seen—her recurring nightmare come to life.
“One more, Zara?”
I’m not Zara!
But she had no air to give voice to the words even if she’d dared. Yesheb’s presence had sucked all the oxygen out of the hallway.
“Go ahead, make all the noise you want, get it out of your system. Or are you finished? You might need that voice to cry out for some other reason later on so I’d hate for you to lose it now in a …” He reached into his jacket and withdrew a vicious-looking dagger from an ornate leather scabbard. Its shiny blade was dulled by some dark liquid. Yesheb wiped some of it onto his finger and licked it off slowly as he continued, “… futile effort to rouse your guard. Or his useless mutt.”
She stared at the knife and it dawned on her ponderously, like picking up something huge, that there was no one to rescue her.
“You knew I’d come for you.” His voice had the rounded, modulated tones of a television news anchor. Somehow oily, though—greasy. She could imagine his words slathered with slime.
It wasn’t a question, so she didn’t answer it. But she
known. Had been dreading his arrival since April 2. Good Friday. That’s when the hourglass of providence had been turned and the sand began to slide silently into the empty sphere below. That’s when the four-full-moons countdown clock had started ticking. She’d known then he would come. She’d done everything she could to guard against him but somehow she’d known all along it wouldn’t be enough.
“It is time!” A bolt of lightning slashed across the sky, trailing a rumble of thunder as an exclamation point on the end of his sentence. “You can see, my lovely Zara, that the heavens eagerly await our union and our reign. Now, which room is the boy’s?”