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Authors: Erica Spindler

Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Thrillers

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BOOK: Shocking Pink
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“No joke.” Raven drew her knees to her chest. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was wild.”

Andie made a face. “And what was that blindfold all about?”

“They’re sex perverts,” Julie answered, looking at Andie. “I saw a book in the library about it. In the psychology section. It was called sexual—” she thought for a moment “—sexual deviation. I think that was it.”

Sexual deviation.
Just as Andie couldn’t rid herself of the sensation of gooseflesh crawling up her arms, she couldn’t shake the image of the woman standing blindfolded and naked in the dark.

She looked at Raven, then Julie. “That woman, why does she do that for him?”

The other two looked blankly at her, then at each other. “I don’t know,” Raven answered, shrugging. “Because she likes it?”

“But how could she?” Andie continued, wishing she had seen the man’s face, wondering if, somehow, she would understand if she had. “It was so…awful. It seemed, I don’t know—” She searched for the right word. “Demeaning,” she said, finding it. “Like the woman was nothing and he was everything. Like she was a slave and he was her master.”

“Gross,” Julie said, screwing up her face. “I sure wouldn’t do that for anybody.”

“No kidding.” Raven looked thoughtful. “What do we do now? We could drop it, but it was just so weird…so wrong.”

“Do you think…” Andie hesitated a moment, knowing what she was about to suggest was far-fetched, but feeling as if she had to say it. “I know that the woman…that she showed up alone and all, but do you think she could have been…that maybe she wasn’t there of her own free will?”

Julie widened her eyes. “What do you mean, like she was kidnapped?”

“Or being blackmailed.”

The other two said nothing, just gazed at Andie, their expressions troubled.

“I don’t know,” Julie murmured after a moment, her cheeks pink. “Maybe. But why would she do that? What could be so bad that she would get in a car and drive someplace she didn’t want to be and do something like
that?

“Something really bad,” Raven answered softly. “Life-and-death.”

Andie glanced down at her hands, realizing that she had them clasped in front of her so tightly her knuckles stood out white in the darkness. She lifted her gaze to her friends’, suddenly thinking of something that hadn’t occurred to her before. “Guys? Why two scarves?”

The question landed heavily between the girls. They looked at each other.

“He brought two,” Andie prodded. “Remember?”

For a moment nobody said a thing, they didn’t even seem to breathe. Julie jumped as a creature scurried in the branches above them, then she rubbed her arms, as if chilled.

Raven swore softly. “This guy’s a freak. We can’t let it go. We’ve got to figure out what’s going on. Agreed?”

Julie hesitated, then nodded. “I’m with you, Rave. We can’t let it go.”

They turned to her. Andie squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she could stop thinking about the woman, about what she had seen. Wishing she could go back to an hour before she had peeked through that window. If she could, she wouldn’t look through it.

But she couldn’t go back, as much as she longed to.

Releasing a breath she hadn’t even realized she held, she inclined her head. “Agreed.”

8
 

R
aven sat in her dark kitchen, awaiting her father’s return. She waited up for him even though it was nearly 1:00 a.m., because he expected it, expected it from a daughter to whom her father, her family, was everything.

Absolute loyalty. Complete devotion. Those were the things that mattered.

She hated his guts.

Raven brought a hand to her right temple and massaged the spot, the tiny fist of pain that had settled there. She had headaches often, some blinding in their intensity, but she had learned to live with them. They were a part of her life, of who she was, just as the scar that curved down her right cheek was.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply through her nose, the events of the night, the events she and her friends had witnessed, whirling in her head. Something important had happened tonight. Something important to her, though she didn’t know why she was so certain of that.

Her exhilaration, her excitement, hadn’t been sexual. She had been spellbound, but not by the woman and what she had been doing. By him, the man.

Raven rested her head against the chair’s high back. Who was he? she wondered. What gave him such power over that woman?

And why couldn’t she put him out of her head?

She hadn’t been able to since that first night, when they’d all been in the house together. Contrary to what she’d told Andie, she had screwed up her courage and peeked around the corner from her hiding place—and seen his face. He had the features of a hawk, she thought, picturing him, all sharp angles and intense. He was older, not like her dad, but older than any of the guys she knew, probably in his twenties.

Raven frowned and rubbed her temple again, guilt plucking at her. She didn’t know why she had lied to her friends, she hadn’t planned to. The words, the lie, had simply slipped past her lips.

Andie and Julie were her best friends. They were her family. It was wrong to have lied to them. She had never kept anything from them.

Until now. Until this.

It was for their own good, she told herself. She was protecting them. The way a parent did a child.

But protecting them from what? she wondered. From who?

Raven thought of the man again. He knew many secrets, she was certain of it. Secrets that gave him power—over other people, over life and death. Tonight had been proof of that.

She wanted to learn his secrets.

From outside she heard the sound of a car door slamming.
Her father.
She straightened and turned toward the kitchen door, pasting on an expectant and welcoming smile.

The door opened. Her father stepped through.

“Hi, Daddy. How was your date?”

“Raven, honey.” He beamed at her. “You waited up.”

“Of course I did.” She smiled and stood. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you a cup of sleepy-time tea.”

“Thanks, honey. That sounds good.”

He took a seat and she busied herself putting on the kettle and getting out the mugs and tea. “So,” she asked, her back to him, “how was it? Do you like her?”

“It was good. She’s a nice woman. Did you like her?”

Raven didn’t turn. She feared he would read in her eyes what she really thought—that he was a son of a bitch and she wished he was dead. “Yes, Daddy,” she said. “She did seem very nice.”

For a moment he was silent. She sensed his gaze on her back, sensed him assessing her every movement, her every word and its inflection. She had played this game with him so long it had become second nature, yet still she lived in fear that he might someday see through her.

And then she might end up as her mother had, trying to run away in the dead of night.

He cleared his throat. “I know what you’re thinking, Raven,” he said softly. “You can’t hide your thoughts from me.”

Her fingers froze on the tea bags, and she forced a stiff laugh. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do. Look at me, please.”

Schooling her features to what she hoped portrayed a look of innocence, she did as he asked, turning slowly to face him.

“I know what you’re worried about,” he said. “You’re worried I’ll get involved with Marion and things will change.”

“No, I’m not.” She shook her head. “Really, Dad.”

He frowned. “You know I like you to call me Daddy.”

“I’m sorry.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “Thank you for reminding me.”

He stood and crossed to her. He caught her hands, and gooseflesh raced up her arms. She walked a very fine line with him, she knew. If he ever discovered her disloyalty, if he ever even suspected it, he would take care of her. The way he had taken care of her mother.

She swallowed her fear. That wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t allow it to happen.

She was smarter than he was.

He squeezed her fingers and looked her straight in the eyes, demanding that she do the same. “You’re worried it will be the way it was with your mother. That’s it, isn’t it?”

“I guess,” she lied. “Maybe I’m a little worried about that.”

He smiled tenderly, and she wanted to retch. “It won’t be that way, sweetheart. I promise you. Marion’s not the way your mother was. She’s loyal. And honest.” His eyes filled with tears. “I loved your mother more than anything, Raven. It broke my heart when she left us. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, Daddy,” she whispered, understanding that he had loved her mother that much. Love, it seemed, took many forms. “I know that.”

He tightened his hands over hers and she had to fight not to flinch from the pressure. “Family is everything,” he said fiercely. “Loyalty counts above all.” He moved his gaze over her face. “No one will come between us. I won’t allow it. Do you understand?”

“Of course.” She forced an adoring smile. “Family is everything.”

He smiled and brought his hands to her hair, hanging loosely down the sides of her face. He tucked it behind her ears. “Why do you wear your hair this way? You know I like it pulled back.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy. I guess I forgot. Tomorrow, I’ll wear those new barrettes you bought me.”

“That’s my girl.” He bent and pressed a kiss to her forehead, then dropped his hands. “Run along to bed. It’s late.”

Just then the kettle screamed. Raven jumped, nearly leaping out of her skin. “I’ll get it,” she said, swinging toward the stove. She reached for the kettle. “You just sit—”

He caught her hand. “You’re nervous as a cat tonight.”

“Just tired.”

“I’ll take care of the tea. You go on to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“All right.” She stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Good night, Daddy.”

As she turned and walked away, Raven smiled to herself. One morning, he wouldn’t see her. One morning, when the time was right, he would never be allowed to see her again.

9
 

J
ulie awakened with a start, a silent scream on her lips. Terrified, she moved her gaze over her dark bedroom, looking for the beast in every shadow, the monster who had come to take what was left of her soul.

After a moment, the outlines of her furniture began to take shape; the silhouette of the tree in her window, the pile of discarded clothes in the corner. Her breathing slowed, her heart with it.

Only a bad dream. Nothing to be really frightened of.

But she was frightened. Julie pressed her lips together, realizing they were trembling. Realizing, too, how close to tears she was. The nightmare had been so real and vivid. So awful.

Her reaction had been worse.

She had been turned on. Sexually aroused, even in her sleep.

Julie rolled onto her side, curling into a ball of misery and self-disgust. The dream had been a reenactment of the scene she, Andie and Raven had witnessed that night. Only she had been the woman, blindfolded and performing for the man. She had been the one who stood before him naked and completely vulnerable, the one who had knelt before him and taken his penis into her mouth.

She should have been ashamed, terrified or repulsed. She should have been desperate to escape.

She had loved it, instead. She had reveled in it.

What was wrong with her?

Just remembering, her body began to throb again. Julie squeezed her thighs together, wanting to stop the sensations but knowing she couldn’t. Knowing that once again, she had lost control and her body wasn’t her own.

Julie turned her face to the pillow and moaned, the tingling sensation building between her legs. She rocked slightly, and the folds of flesh at the apex of her thighs rubbed together, a trick she had learned years ago. She had used it in church, at the dinner table, during Scriptures.

Even as she told herself to stop, she rocked harder, squeezed tighter. The tingling ignited, becoming fire. Her mind emptied of everything but the heat, the need for that moment of complete oblivion and electric nothingness.

The moment where Julie Cooper, her life, her body itself, ceased to exist.

It arrived. She brought her fist to her mouth to hold back the sound that rushed to escape. One of pleasure and pain. The pleasure of the moment. The painful truth that in the experience, it was already over.

Back to life. Her life.

Julie Cooper lived.

Pleasure and pain. As the throbbing eased, she thought of Andie and Raven. Julie’s eyes welled with tears. What would they think if they knew the truth about her? If they knew what she did, how she touched herself? Would they still want to be her best friends?

They wouldn’t; she knew they wouldn’t.

Earlier that night, as she had peered in that window with her friends, she had been afraid, so afraid, that Andie and Raven would see how excited she was, that they would know what she was thinking, what she was feeling.

She had been so ashamed, she had wanted to die.

Her thoughts returned to the dream. In it, she had been that woman; she had crossed to the man and had eagerly taken his penis into her mouth.

Remembering, her stomach rose to her throat. Unlike the real scene she had viewed, it hadn’t ended there. Suddenly, her blindfold had been stripped away. She’d lifted her eyes.

And seen the hideous, red face of her lover.

She’d had the devil inside her mouth, his penis, his sperm bubbling up, gagging her.

She had clawed at him then, trying to free herself. He had tipped back his massive horned head and laughed. She couldn’t escape him. They were joined forever.

You have the devil inside you, girl. You always have.

Julie drew her knees tighter to her chest, her father’s voice ringing in her head, the devil’s laughter with it. She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she could blot them out. Wishing she could crawl out of herself, become someone else, someone new and clean and good.

Clean and good. The way she hadn’t felt in a long time, not since the terrible Easter morning so many years ago. She drew in a shuddering breath, the memory unfolding in her head. She had been seven years old, standing in front of her bedroom mirror, gazing admiringly at herself. In her new Easter dress, bonnet and white patent-leather shoes, shoes so shiny and bright she could see herself in them, she had felt like a princess. A beautiful princess.

She had giggled and whirled around, her long blond curls swinging with the movement. From downstairs, Julie had heard her two brothers playing, laughing and tussling with each other, from the bathroom down the hall her mother humming “Amazing Grace.” The new baby had been asleep in the nursery; her father had been running through his sermon one last time. This was her father’s first big sermon for his new congregation here in Thistledown, and Easter Sunday was the most important day on the religious calendar. His new congregation expected something especially rousing today. Julie had heard him tell her mother that he didn’t want anything to go wrong. Not this time.

Julie ran her hands over the dress’s tissue-like fabric, liking the way it rustled against her legs. Something had gone wrong at their last church, the one in Mobile. Julie didn’t know what, she only knew that some men from the congregation had come to see her dad one night, and after they left she had heard her mom crying.

Not long after, they had moved here, to Thistledown and Temple Baptist Church.

Julie pirouetted again, delighted, wishing she could dress like this every day. When she grew up she would, she decided, tilting her head this way and that and smiling at herself in the mirror. She fluffed her hair and pursed her lips, imitating the way she had seen an actress do it on a shampoo commercial. Would the other girls think she was pretty? she wondered. Would they like her?

Maybe today, she thought hopefully, beaming into the mirror, at the egg hunt and picnic after the last service, she would make a friend.

“What are you doing?”

At the sound of her father’s angry voice, Julie froze. She dropped her hands and turned slowly to face him, her heart thundering. “Nothing, Daddy,” she whispered.

He took a step toward her, his expression thunderous. “I’ll ask you once more, daughter. What were you doing?”

She swallowed hard, past the sudden knot of tears and fear that choked her. She hated when her father got this way; it scared her. She never knew what answer he was looking for, never knew what she had done to anger him.

“Just…getting ready for…church, Daddy.”

“Linda!” he bellowed, vibrant red starting at the place where his clerical collar met his neck and moving upward.

Julie took an involuntary step backward. “Daddy, really, I wasn’t doing anythi—”

“Vanity is the work of the devil,” he said. “It tempts us, teasing and cajoling until we love ourselves more than God.”

She shook her head. “No, Daddy, I wasn’t—”

He was across the room so fast she didn’t have time to react. He grabbed her bonnet and snatched it from her head, taking some of her hair with it. She cried out in pain.

“Don’t lie to me! I saw the devil in your eyes. I saw the admiration, the self-love for your reflection.”

“No, Daddy! Please—”

He grabbed the hem of her dress and yanked it up over her head. She heard the delicate fabric rip, an awful wrenching sound. A sound she felt as if a physical blow. Sobbing, she tried to cover herself, naked save for her underwear and tights. “No…please…I didn’t mean to be bad,” she begged. “Give me another chance. Please, I—”

He turned her toward the mirror, forcing her arms to her sides so she would face her nakedness. “See yourself, sinner.” He shook her so hard her teeth rattled. “What’s to admire now, I ask you? Without the Lord, what are you but dirty flesh and foul spirit?”

As if from a great distance, Julie had heard her mother’s cry of distress, her brother’s muffled giggles. Her father had released her, and she’d crumpled to the floor. Only then had she seen her mother standing in the doorway staring at her with a look of pure horror, her brothers behind her, both of them making ugly faces at her.

A sound of despair had flown into her throat like vomit, and she’d held it back. Just as she’d held back her tears, her self-pity. Such expression was just another form of vanity, her father said. Another form of self-love over God-love.

Her father had ordered her mother to find her something less provocative to wear, something that wouldn’t tempt her to stray from the path of righteousness.

She had gone to church that day in a plain brown jumper and scuffed loafers; she had gone marked by sin, so vain and wretched she wasn’t even allowed to wear pretty dresses and bonnets like the other girls.

Instead of welcoming smiles, she had been greeted with curious stares from the other children. Their gazes had slipped over her, and they had wondered, she knew, why, on the highest holy day of the year, the reverend’s daughter was dressed the way she was.

They hadn’t had long to wonder. Her father had told them.

He had been at the pulpit, delivering a rousing sermon. As he spoke, his fiery gaze kept coming back to her.

“You’re sinners!” Her father’s voice had boomed through the church. Around Julie, people shifted uncomfortably. “He died for you. For your sins. He died so you may live.”

He paused a moment, then brought his fist crashing down on the pulpit. “Sinners!” he shouted, swinging his gaze to Julie’s, seeming to pin her to the pew.

He lifted a hand and pointed. At her. Directly at her. “Sinner,” he said softly. Then louder, “Sinner!”

Julie had gone hot, then icy, clammy cold. Tears had flooded her eyes and she’d sunk down in the pew. She’d heard the hushed murmur move through the congregation, felt those around her ease away, as if afraid of contamination.

If the others hadn’t known about her before, she remembered realizing, they had then. And she had known, too.

Dirty flesh and foul spirit. Marked by sin.

Julie made a strangled sound of despair, the past retreating, the hopeless present reasserting itself. If only Andie or Raven was with her now. They would talk to her, make her smile and laugh, make her forget. Who and what she was. They would tell her she was okay.

And for a little while, she would even believe it.

For a little while.
She pressed her face to the pillow, longing so hard for her friends she ached, even though she knew in her heart that no one could help her, not even God. She knew it was true, because she had prayed and prayed, but still the devil stalked her.

And one day, she feared, he would catch her. And she would be lost forever.

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