Edited prologue and part of Chapter One!

Prologue

Leah Chaloupek shivered as the night breeze swept into her room through the open window, carrying with it the hard-driving rain that had been falling in torrents for over an hour. She tossed in her sleep and moaned as several drops of rain met her sweat soaked skin.

“Martin!” She gasped and lurched into a sitting position. Her hands trembled as she threw the quilt off of her body and crawled out of bed. She’d dreamed her cousin dead, surrounded by a pool of his own blood. The sight was an awful repetition of the all-too-real bodies she’d seen only hours before: her best friends, Reb and Scarlet, lying dead in their new suburban home.

Martin would be next. The thought sent her stomach tumbling. She rushed the last few steps into the bathroom, knelt beside the toilet, and vomited.
Why had Martin come to her? Why couldn’t he have gone to the police? She’d been powerless to stop the first two deaths, what made him think she could help this time?

Leah stood, shaking, afraid to leave the toilet—she knew she’d need it again.
Martin said he’d found a note—threatening his life. The same kind of note Reb and Scarlet had found exactly twenty-four hours before they died. He’d sobbed and asked for help. Maybe the police could stop this. Maybe they could save him.


She closed her eyes and sat on the edge of the bathtub.

Why couldn’t he have kept it to himself? She couldn’t stop it and neither could the police—she knew that without a doubt. It was too big, had been going on for way too long. Her friends, Scarlet, Reb, Martin, they were all just footnotes in a larger game. So was she.

She didn’t bother to explain it to Martin, though. She’d just hugged, comforted, lied. Anything to get him to leave.

She had enough to worry about. She’d found a note too.

Chapter One

Santa Fe, NM.

Collette Chaloupek rolled down the window of her four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee and stared across the street. The ice-cream shop on the corner called to her, taunting her with her knowledge of its ice-cold bounty.

“Yes, I know I need the vacation,” she said. She shifted the small black Motorola phone at her ear. Her sister-in-law’s voice took on a high pitch as she responded. “I know I promised!” Collette said. She sighed. “Shelley, I’ll be there! I just have a few things to take care of before I leave town.” She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and gazed at the ice-cream shop. Her niece’s high school graduation would be in two days and her sister-in-law would not rest easy until every out-of-town guest had arrived.

“I’m heading out first thing in the morning,” Collette said. She rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. Ten minutes until she had to be in her office to meet with a student. There was still time to run into the ice-cream shop and buy a cone—if Shelley would stop talking.

“Listen, Shel, I have to go,” she said. The voice on the other end of the line protested, sighed, and gave up. “Love you too,” Collette said. She snapped her phone shut, rolled up the window, and bolted through the door.

Chocolate chip? Café Olé? Maybe just some Vanilla…she let her mind wander in anticipation of the treat as she crossed the busy, two-lane street and headed into the Taos Cow. She decided on the Café Olé, minus the waffle cone she never ate, and headed back to her Jeep. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, alerting her that she’d received a text message. She tucked her wallet under her chin and switched her ice-cream to her other hand in an effort to fish the phone out of her right front pocket. It was a message from Shelley:

Two teens found dead in Ebbson, NM. Police say murder.

The words seemed too large for the small screen. Collette dropped her wallet and stared at the phone. Ebbson? That couldn’t be right. Who would be crazy, or motivated, enough to commit murder in a town with less than one-thousand residents? She shook her head and bent to retrieve her wallet, tucking the disturbing thoughts away as she slipped the wallet into her back pocket. She checked her watch and all but dove into the Jeep. One of her students would be waiting at her office within minutes, and she still had to get to the campus.
***

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