Read Snake Skin Online

Authors: CJ Lyons

Tags: #allison brennan, #cj lyons, #fbi, #jeffery deaver, #lee child, #pittsburgh, #serial killer, #suspense, #tami hoag, #thriller

Snake Skin

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CJ Lyons: SNAKESKIN
198

SNAKE SKIN

CJ Lyons

 

 

 

PRAISE FOR CJ LYONS:

 

"
Adrenalin pumping." ~The Mystery
Gazette

 

"Riveting." ~Publishers Weekly Beyond Her
Book

 

"
Smart and intriguing, and
her character development is so incredible that she leaves me
literally breathless waiting to see what will happen next."
~
Becky Lejeune, Bookbitch.com

 

Lyons "is a master within the genre."
~Pittsburgh Magazine

 

"
Breathtakingly fast-paced."
~Publishers Weekly

 

"A winner!" ~Romantic Times, Top Pick

 

"Simply superb…riveting drama…a perfect ten."
~Romance Reviews Today

 

"Characters with beating hearts and three
dimensions." ~Newsday

 

"A pulse-pounding adrenalin rush!" ~Lisa
Gardner

 

"Packed with adrenalin." ~David Morrell

 

"Engrossing, intriguing..." ~Heather
Graham

 

"An adrenalin rush and an all-around great
read." ~Allison Brennan

 

"…Harrowing, emotional, action-packed and
brilliantly realized. CJ Lyons writes with the authority only a
trained physician can bring to a story, blending suspense, passion
and friendship into an irresistible read." ~Susan Wiggs

 

"Simply exceptional. The action never lets
up…keeps you on the edge of your seat." ~Roundtable Reviews

 

"Explodes on the page…I absolutely could not
put it down." ~Romance Readers' Connection

 

"
A perfect blend of romance and
suspense. My kind of read." ~#
1 New York Times
Bestselling
author Sandra Brown

 

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Any
references to historical events, real people, or real locales are
used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents
are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to
actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

 

Copyright 2011, CJ Lyons

 

All rights reserved, including the
right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Library of Congress Case #
1-273031561

 

Smashwords Edition

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your
personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given
away to other people. If you would like to share this book with
another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person
you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase
it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should
return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

SNAKE SKIN

CJ Lyons

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Friday: 2:18 pm

 

She stroked the tip of her thumbnail against
her tongue, testing. Not sharp enough. Yet.

Nibbling the edge, enjoying the crunch of
keratin against enamel, Ashley propped both elbows on the table and
hunched forward. Other than the old guy behind the counter giving
her an oogly-woogly pervert stare, the Tastee Treet was empty.

It was your typical hotdog shack. Cracked
vinyl booths crowded the dining area, waiting to be filled by
squealing cheerleaders and boasting football players after Friday
night football games. A fifties-style melamine radio behind the
counter warbled some tune older than even Ashley's parents,
something about fast cars and fast boys and the dangers of loving
them, punctuated by the sizzle and pop of the fryer.

No sign of Bobby. She couldn't help but
glance behind her, out to the gravel parking lot, even though she
knew she'd hear his car easily through the plexi-glass windows and
plywood walls. Her stomach knotted with anticipation—he was so
handsome, and god, those eyes, they saw right into her soul—would
he like her once they finally met in person?

Would he be disappointed? Think she was too
young? Too immature? Worry gnawed at her as she raised a finger to
her mouth.
No.
She'd outgrown that nasty habit. There wasn't
room in her life for any of that. Not once she and Bobby made their
escape.

She glanced at her watch before removing it,
then slid it over top the chrome and glass pepper shaker. The last
vestige of her past, it had served her well. Despite taking three
buses and walking half a mile, she was still ten minutes early.

Each leg of the journey had left her feeling
buoyant, discarding bits and pieces of herself the way her father's
beloved creepy snakes shed their skin. As if her old life was made
up of fourteen years worth of flaky, parchment-thin memories that
she'd out-grown and left behind to crumble into dust and blow
away.

"Did you want to order anything, miss?" the
counter guy asked, startling her. His face was shadowed by a
Steelers ball cap pulled low. She'd felt his stare ever since she
entered.

The grease-laden aroma of French fries and
burgers perfumed the air, making her stomach growl. She ignored it.
It was important to stay in control. "No. I'm just waiting for
someone."

Control. She adjusted the watch, centering
it exactly, brushing stray pepper grains away, trying to deny her
flutter of anxiety. And failing.

Abandoning the watch, she spread her palms
flat on the table top, her breath coming in fast, sharp gasps. What
if Bobby thought she was ugly? What if he didn't like her? What
if...

She turned her left hand palm up, slashing
her thumbnail against the bare skin of her wrist.

Ahhh...Relief sighed through her at the
sight of the red welt, the tiny beads of crimson, the oh-so
straight and precise line.

Staring at her blood, she was able to
breathe again.

Her tongue slid between her teeth and lips
as the urge to taste the blood became overwhelming. Just this once.
She would quit after she and Bobby were together. Promise.

Flexing her wrist, she forced another small
dot of crimson to the surface. So shiny, so wet.

She held her wrist perfectly steady, denying
the tremors vibrating beneath her skin, a current of palpable
electricity. Her stomach tensed with anticipation as each beat of
her heart made the red blossoms shudder.

Not yet...not yet. She was in control.

Ashley raised her eyes. The geezer at the
counter still stared at her. Fuckwad. He had to be as old as her
father. Double fuckwad. She sharpened her gaze into a deadly glare.
He flinched, looked away. Lech.

Bobby should be here any moment. Escape was
almost at hand. She'd been such a good girl, waiting, controlling
her impulse to cut and run.

She carefully rolled her sleeve back,
exposing the other trophies her control had won. Each scar a
triumph. Each scar a time she hadn't run screaming out into the
night or thrown herself in front of a bus or jumped from a
bridge.

Each scar reminding her that she could win,
that she mattered, that somewhere inside this cold, numb husk, she
was alive.

Raising her wrist, she slowly, with gentle
flicks, not wasting a drop, licked the blood. Still warm, so salty
as it slipped across her tongue, down her throat.

Sometimes, she felt like she was floating
outside her body, searching for another life. Cutting helped her
re-connect, grounding her, even if she did always find herself
right back where she started. Same old body, same old life.

Same nowhere future.

This was her last time. Promise. As soon as
Bobby came to rescue her, she'd never do it again. Never need to.
As soon as Bobby got here, everything would be fine.

He’d promised.

"Excuse me, miss?" It was the scuzzy counter
guy, leaning over her, bending much too close as he reached for the
napkin dispenser.

Ashley tried to pull away but he had her
pinned against the side of the booth. His arm brushed the back of
her neck, caressing her hair. Pervert.

"Hey, back off!" Something sharp jabbed her
neck. "What the—"

Disappointment trumped her fear for one
impossibly long instant. She'd never get to see Bobby….then the
ramifications of that fleeting thought flash-froze her with
terror.

"Don't be afraid," he said, sliding down to
sit beside her, his arm wrapping her in an embrace impossible to
escape. Not with her entire body turning to melted jello, soft and
mushy, and swimming away from her.

It took a few seconds for his words to
penetrate as she tried to speak and failed, the only thing emerging
a trail of drool. She slumped against him, her head lolling to one
side, the taste of blood lingering, fresh on her tongue.
Bobby,
where was Bobby?

"Don't worry, Ashley," he said as her vision
danced with kaleidoscope colors. "I'm here to save you."

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Saturday, 7:34 am

 

Lucy Guardino hated this part. The right
before it started part. The waiting part.

Killing time, she rummaged through her
frayed denim bag as she sat in the Blazer's passenger seat.
Fletcher had done a good job. Little girl's barrette, a hair
scrunchie, crumbled Giant Eagle receipt, and two key chains: one
with a set of house keys, the other with a single Dodge van key.
She closed her fist around the van key, its sharp edges biting into
her skin. The pain helped her to focus, chased away silent
stirrings of panic.

All part of the waiting. She'd be fine once
it came time for doing. She always was.

The bank's parking lot was quiet at this
early hour, heat already steaming the blacktop. The air smelled of
fertilizer, mowed hay, and burnt oil. Frogs trilled a duet with
cicadas in the field across the parking lot, punctuated by the
squeal of airbrakes from the highway beyond it. September in
Pennsylvania.

Steadying her breathing, she pictured Katie,
only four years old. Pictured what the men wanted to do with
her.

No, that was no good—all she saw was her own
daughter, all she felt was rage that animals like them were allowed
to roam free.

Tossing her head to crack her neck, she took
another deep breath. Shoved the image of her daughter aside and
thought instead about what the men wanted: power, devotion,
adoration….control.

She knew these men, knew how they thought,
what they desired. The passions that woke them at three in the
morning, sweaty and sick with need. The visions they held in their
mind as they jacked off. The longing, sweet anticipation, clawing
its way through their veins until they were as powerless to resist
as a junkie offered a free hit….

Oh yes, Lucy knew these men.

Calm settled over her, hypnotic as the
burble of childhood streams, cool water, warm mud between her toes.
She and her father had loved to go fishing. He always said fishing
was all about the art of dangling bait. Showing them what they
wanted but not ever letting them have it. That's all this was, a
different kind of fishing.

She closed her eyes for a moment, smiling at
the memory. Dad was right. And Lucy was a good fisherman. She lived
for that instant when the line snapped taut, ready to break,
adrenalin stretching the moment, time holding its breath until she
took control and finessed the fish into shore—right where she
wanted it.

Her phone rang, shattering the calm.

"Now, don't worry," Nick said, which of
course sent her pulse racing into overdrive. He always said that
when there was something to worry about. "Megan just called and her
fever's back. And her throat is sore again. I got a hold of the
doctor and he can see her if we can get her there by nine, but my
first client is already on their way—"

Lucy glanced at the dashboard clock. The
meet should be a quick in and out, just to confirm all the details
and make sure there weren't any new players to add to their roster.
And Nick's practice was so new, he couldn't risk angering clients
by canceling. "I can do it."

"You sure?"

She didn't take offense—he had reason to
doubt, she'd been held up before by work.

But it was a Saturday. And he'd taken Megan
to the doctor two weeks ago—if the strep had come back, Lucy wanted
to be there to get some answers.

"No problem. I'm sure."

"Call me, let me know what the doctor
says."

"I will. She's okay until I get there?"
Megan had been miserable with the strep, she hoped it wasn't back
again. Guilt washed over her. Work had been busy, too busy, and she
couldn't remember the last time she'd been home in time to do more
than tuck Megan in. Although of course Megan refused to be tucked
in by her mom anymore. Twelve going on twenty.

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