Author: Elizabeth Krall
Genre: Romantic suspense/thriller
Released: December 10th, 2014
Length: 280 pages
Caroline Bready is being watched. Someone has posted a photograph of her on a mysterious website.
Still struggling to rebuild her life after the unsolved death of her husband, Caroline tells herself that the photo is unimportant. She drifts into an affair with a colleague; the relationship begins casually, but quickly becomes intense and disturbing.
After Caroline discovers the first victim of a serial rapist who has begun to attack women in Sydney, another photograph appears. Are the online images a threat, or simply coincidence?
Against a backdrop of deception and lies, Caroline finds herself drawn to an enigmatic stranger. Is he protecting her, or does he mean her harm?
If Caroline cannot distinguish friend from foe, it could cost her life.
“Elizabeth Krall skillfully crafts a tale of growing foreboding and outright fear.”
– Readers+Writers Journal
“With superb writing, vivid descriptions, and meaty characters, Krall pulls the reader into the story and does not let go until the words “the end” appear.”
– Gut Reaction Reviews
“The twists and turns in this fast paced and marvelous thriller are well written and the characters are unique, from the main ones to the secondary and villain. My favorite is the actual hero, which you only get to know if you read it!”
– Georgianna, The Reading Café
Elizabeth Krall is the author of the suspense/thriller “In Your Sights“, the contemporary romance novels “Too Close” and “Ship to Shore”, and an occasional series of short stories themed around holidays, called “Holiday Romances”.
Most of Elizabeth’s career was spent as an editor, but now she works as a print and digital graphic designer. An unexpected side-effect of leaving editing was the resurgence of an interest in writing.
Elizabeth grew up in Canada and lived in London, England, for many years. She has now settled in Sydney, Australia. Her interests include travel, tall ship sailing, photography and blogging.
EXCERPT ONE: PUNISHMENT
Caroline stood at the turning to the short corridor that led to Reece’s office. She reached down to straighten her skirt, and up to straighten her hair. It was idiotic, she knew that. He had seen her in every state of undress by now, disheveled from sex or sleep, with no makeup or with mascara smeared under her eyes, but nonetheless she wanted to look good if she knew she would see him. His door was ajar, and she stepped forward to where he could notice her. Reece was working, though, all of his attention on his computer, and did not look up until she knocked.
“Caroline! This is a surprise.” Reece leaned back from his screen, and smiled. “What brings you to no man’s land?”
“You volunteered to take part in our trial of the new internet browser, remember? I’m here to install it. It won’t take long, but I can come back if this is a bad time,” she said.
He put his hands against the edge of the desk and pushed his chair back. “Not at all. I could use a break. It’s all yours.”
His office was private, but it was not very large. He sat beside the window, with his back to a wall, facing the door. As she stepped behind the desk, he was hemmed in.
“Sorry.” Caroline took a step back. “Did you want to get out?”
“Not at all. I will sit here and watch a nerd at work.”
She pulled a face at him. “That doesn’t sound very interesting. Or flattering!”
Reece chuckled. “If it were any other nerd, I would have manufactured a desire for tea and escaped. Is that flattering enough for you?”
“Yes.” She angled the keyboard and mouse toward her, and bent over the desk. “You were quiet last night. I didn’t wake up at all when you left.”
“Just call me the stealth lover.”
Caroline felt his right hand touch the inside of her left knee, and as his fingers began to slide up her leg she took a hasty step to the side. “Reece!”
“Caroline?” He looked at her with polite inquiry.
“You can’t do that!”
“Of course I can.”
“Not here, I mean.” The computer claimed her attention with a beep. She gave Reece a look of warning, and began to type.
“Why not here?” His hand was back, the thumb circling on the soft skin at the dimple of her knee. “You like it. That’s all that matters.”
Oh, she did like it. Desire fluttered inside her like a trapped bird. His fingers eased higher, and she said nothing. She couldn’t. Her breaths came fast and shallow. She closed her eyes.
“You are not wearing nylons,” he observed. Then, with a note of disapproval, he said, “But you are wearing panties.”
One finger tweaked the lace edging, and Caroline’s eyes flew open. She looked directly into another pair of eyes, big brown eyes in the laughing face of a pretty, curly-haired woman. Reece’s wife stared at her from the large photo that stood in a frame beside the computer monitor.
Caroline jumped back as though Reece’s fingers had burned her. His touch lingered on her skin, lines and whorls of heat.
He held a hand out to her. “Come back here.” The telltale bulge of his arousal was clear.
She shook her head. “It would be wrong!”
Impatience flickered across his face. “Why?”
“Someone could see us!”
“Not if you close the door.”
She looked at the open door, and shook her head again.
“Hypocrite,” he said in a scornful voice. “You don’t think it’s wrong at all, you just don’t want to get caught. Get out.”
He straightened up. “Close the door behind you.”
She took blind steps toward the door, and he spoke again.
“Or stay. But either way, close the door.”
She took another step, and reached for the doorknob. She would leave, she would march out of here, and someone else could install his browser.
The door closed behind her. Caroline leaned against it, her palms flat against its cool surface, and looked across the small office into Reece’s knowing eyes.
“You want me, don’t you?”
She nodded, mute with shame. Why could she not have walked away? Why did that demon he had awoken strip her of control over her own body?
“You need me.”
“You can’t walk out of here until you’ve had me inside you. Hard and hot.”
The demon stirred to his words.
“When you behave like this, you deserve to be punished,” Reece said.
He crooked his finger, and she was drawn across the room as surely as if she had been tied to a rope.
With one arm, he swept keyboard and mouse and photo to the other end of the desk. “Bend over. Lower.”
His hand on her back pressed her to the desk. Her breath fogged its gleaming wood and her breasts squashed against its unyielding surface. She felt the touch of cool air on the back of her thighs as he flipped up her skirt, and then on her bottom as he stripped off her panties.
Reece traced two fingers along the curve of one buttock, down along the crease where it joined her thigh. She shivered with anticipation and bit back a moan. His legs roughly pushed her knees apart.
“Now, Caroline, you will take your punishment.”
EXCERPT TWO: LONG BEFORE DARK
Caroline sat on the edge of a stone wall that marked a grave, and smiled. It was an idyllic spot. Such calm, such restfulness. Such quiet! Only the whisper of wind in dry grass, and the rustle of palm fronds. Even the birds had fallen silent.
The sun had set and daylight was fading. The brevity of twilight in Sydney still surprised her, and already the colors were almost gone. She knew that she should leave, because if someone did lock those gates at the top, she would have to walk all the way down to the bottom, to where the old footpath entered the cemetery along the cliff edge, and then walk all the way back up on the other side of the wall.
“Be sure you’re out of there long before dark. Stay in sight of other people at all times.”
Alarm flared inside her as she remembered the inspector’s words.
What did she think she was doing, dawdling in this deserted cemetery as night fell? Far worse things could happen to her than a long walk home. Despite her intentions, she glanced at the bowls club, and she shuddered, remembering the sight of Jayna as she stood below the bright lights in the parking lot.
Metal scraped on stone with a sharp rasp.
A surge of adrenaline and fear sent Caroline spinning around.
What is it? Where? Who?
Her eyes darted from one headstone to another, past crosses and columns, to the shape of a man. She turned to run but caught her shoe on a loose brick, and she stumbled into a rough stone grave marker. She righted herself and looked back at the man: he had not moved.
It wasn’t a man. It was a statue of an angel.
But something had made that noise. She had not imagined it. Someone was nearby.
“Who’s there?” Caroline called, and heard the high thread of fear in her voice. “Who are you? Come out!”
Silence. The growl of a car on a distant street, and the bark of a dog, but no voice replied.
Fear wrapped itself around her. He could be anywhere! Behind any of these stone figures and walls and vaults. She whirled, but saw nothing. The heavy camera swung on its strap around her neck and she steadied it with one hand.
Caroline held the camera in front of her like a shield and pressed the shutter button, taking shot after shot in every direction. The strong flash illuminated crosses and statues, angels and columns, and the man walking toward her not 10 feet away.
“Easy there, darlin’,” he said in a soothing voice. Both hands were held out, and he shone his flashlight onto his face. “Relax. I’m a warden here. Look.” He pointed to the badge on the breast pocket of his shirt. “You get caught out here in the dark?”
Relief made her knees tremble, and Caroline leaned one hand against the vault beside her. The sun-warmed marble felt comforting. “Yes.”
The sound of his chuckle was so reassuring, so safe, that she thought she might cry from the sheer release of emotion.
“It happens sometimes. People get caught up in the sunset, and next thing they know they’re all alone in the middle of a big dark cemetery with heaps of dead folks. They imagine they see all manner of ghosts and goblins!”
“I don’t believe in ghosts. I know I heard something,” she protested, as she fell into step beside him. “Like metal on stone.”
“Oh luv, this entire cemetery is falling apart! Mind your step on these paving stones now,” he said, flashing the light at the broken path ahead. “You likely heard a stretch of rusty old fence fall.”
“Maybe,” Caroline said. No longer surrounded by the looming stone shapes, she was not sure what she had heard.
He guided her to the same gates through which she had entered, and wished her a pleasant evening.
It did not take Caroline long to walk home, and by the time she let herself into the apartment she had decided that the warden was right. Many of the graves had very low stone walls topped with ornate metal fences that had rusted over the decades. A number of fallen fences lay scattered on the ground. She had simply heard one grate against stone as it fell.
She made herself a cup of tea and carried it to the living room, where she pushed back the glass door to allow the warm air to enter. She slid the camera’s memory card into a slot on the computer.
To her surprise, the photographs were not bad. The currawong, in fact, was very good, with focus so perfect she could see individual feathers and the orange gleam of its eye. The sight of a lorikeet hanging upside down to get at something in the palm tree brought a smile to her lips.
She cringed at the first frantic, flash-illuminated shot, everything in stark whites and blacks. She tapped the arrow on the keyboard, wanting to whiz through them as quickly as possible, to not be reminded of those minutes of silly terror in the dark. Vault, tap; cross, tap; weeping angel, tap; angel with outspread wings, tap; man’s face, tap; broken pillar–
A man’s face?
Goose bumps rose on her skin as if summer had become winter, and the tea in her mouth tasted sour. She tapped back. A large pointed headstone rose in the foreground, glaring white in the full force of the flash. Receding into the dark were the gray shapes of crosses and statues. And like a ghost disappearing into the night behind the gravestone was the face of a man.
EXCERPT THREE: A GOOD DECOY
He walked toward the college and wondered if he were making a mistake. Had she seen him on Thursday? Worse, had she photographed him in her frenzy of fear in the cemetery? Or had he been far enough away not to be captured in the flash? He would find out soon enough, if she turned up. Or perhaps not: she found it difficult enough to look at him at the best of times, so how could he tell if she were avoiding him?
If she had gone to the police, he could be in trouble. He told himself that he was a fool, that two hours of looking at her in a classroom were not worth the risk. Yes, he had taken precautions, but would they be enough?
His steps faltered when he saw her. She had turned up.
Caroline was sitting on the same bench where he had seen her and Nola before class three weeks ago, but now she was alone. The spreading plane tree threw broken shadows over the bench. The trees were imports from England, planted decades ago. They always reminded him of marching on parade through London, of the ringing thump of his squadron’s boot heels hitting the pavement in unison.
He slowed, to stretch out these moments when he could look at her, straight at her in the light of day, drinking her in. Her face was in profile and her neck was bent as she handled something in her lap. The breeze ruffled the skirt of the flowered summer dress she wore, and her legs were tucked under the seat, crossed demurely at the ankles.
His heart ached at the sight of her. Despite what he had seen in the dark outside her apartment building a week ago, despite the naked need in her eyes as she had looked at that man, he loved her. She was so beautiful. So beautiful, and so unattainable.
She looked up as he neared, saw him, and smiled.
His first thought was that someone she knew must be behind him, Nola perhaps. But no, she looked right at him.
“Hello,” she said.
Then her eyes flickered, ever so slightly, and he knew.
The men appeared from behind and beside him, police in uniform and in plain clothes.
“You are under arrest for stalking. You are not obliged to say or do anything, but anything you say or do may be used as evidence against you.”
Instinct and training stiffened his body, and he tensed. Hands tightened around his arms. He relaxed, and nodded to them. He would cooperate.
They ushered him to the police van he had not noticed parked at the curb, as he had not noticed the loitering men and had not noticed Nola, running now from the college building to take Caroline in her arms.
He had been right, that morning on the cliff top. She did make a good decoy.