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Britney King LLC

Passerby: A Psychological Thriller (Ebook)

Passerby: A Psychological Thriller (Ebook)

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“Roils with passion, rancor, and greed wrapped in Southern politesse… King’s intricately woven mystery will please fans of the thriller and suspense genre far and wide.”

 About The Book

Jester Falls has always been an idyllic town. Perfect for a getaway. And what better place to stay than Magnolia House, the tourist trap’s most popular bed and breakfast, run by the eccentric Channing family.

Ruth Channing loves her family—at least what’s left of it. She’d do anything to protect them.

But it isn’t until her brother picks up a mysterious woman on the side of Route 78 that Ruth realizes how many definitions the word anything can have.

Everything about Ashley Parker rings false: her past, her profession, even her name. Most worryingly of all, her reluctance to leave. When guests start disappearing, it’s clear there’s more at stake than just the family business… a lot more.

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Prologue

NOW

This is not a job for an amateur. That much is obvious by the way my heart has lodged itself in my throat. I cover my mouth, partly because I’m in shock, partly because it will keep me from screaming. As tears prick my eyes, I bite down on my tongue in an attempt to keep them at bay. I am not a crier. 

I push the door open further and enter the room. Small hinges move heavy doors. It’s something my father used to say. I wish he were here now. He would know what to do. 

My focus suddenly becomes very narrow, very clear. I stand frozen in place until I realize I ought to close the door behind me. I lock it for good measure, even though every fiber of my being is telling me to get out. Turn around and run. Don’t look back. 

Spoiler alert, that’s not what I do.

I take another step forward. 

The floor creaks underfoot as I move toward the desk, causing my heart to lurch further into my throat. After flipping on the lamp, I cross the room carefully. I reach for the curtains then realize I probably shouldn’t. Guests have already begun trickling into the garden, and while I’m on the second floor, people have a way of seeing everything these days.

Not me, unfortunately. I should have checked this room earlier. Back when I sensed something was wrong. Back when I felt someone watching me. The times I heard funny noises.

I scan the room for answers, though it’s pretty obvious what has happened. A double murder. That, or a murder-suicide. One way or the other, I have two bodies on my hands. Two bodies I have to get rid of and quick. Nothing spoils a party faster than a dead body. Two dead bodies and things go downhill twice as fast. 

I hope you’ll forgive my facetiousness. I’m awkward in situations that are outside of my control. But then again, I’m awkward most of the time. 

The alarm clock on the nightstand catches my attention as it blinks on and off, flashing red, indicating that someone has unplugged it and plugged it back in. It reads 2:00 p.m. 

I wish it was 2:00 p.m. I slide my phone from my back pocket and check the time. I have exactly twenty-seven minutes. 

I can do this.

I have to do this. 

There’s a lot riding on me doing this. 

I remind myself that I am not an amateur. I know how to get blood out of carpet, sheets, and fancy dresses. You name it, I’m sure I’ve tried it. I know how to scrub walls meticulously, but also carefully, so as not to rub the paint off. I know that when it comes to flooring, when a job is too big—like, say, this one—you don’t bother trying to scrub, you simply cut swatches of carpet out. It never looks quite right, even if you manage to find a suitable match, but a piece of furniture, carefully placed, or a rug, will take care of that. 

Here, I don’t know. There’s an awful lot of blood. The plush carpet that was just installed last January? Toast. I’m guessing drywall will have to be removed. One thing is for sure, someone in this room fought like hell. I wonder which of them it was. Was it both?

I clench my fists and then stretch my fingers. The mattress is a goner, for sure. I can’t afford this. Although, there isn’t time to think about that now. This requires a quick fix, a Band-Aid, anything that will buy me some time. Not enough time to call professionals, although that’s certainly what I’d prefer. 

Like The Rolling Stones said: You can’t always get what you want. 

And anyway, I can’t afford professionals, either. 

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, I could do what most people in my shoes would do. I could call the police. 

Trust me, that’s probably the least affordable option. 

There are lives at stake, and livelihoods, which are sometimes one and the same, more so than you’d think. 

So here I am, standing over two dead bodies, surveying the blood splatter, wondering if I’ll ever be able to find wallpaper this pretty again. It’s like two paths diverged in a wood. I know this isn’t a Robert Frost poem, but bear with me, it’s my favorite, and at this moment, my mind is going to strange places. It’s the shock, a protective mechanism. You wouldn’t believe the things our brains and our bodies can do. They can perform miraculous feats in the name of preservation.

If only it had worked for these two.

Anyway, two paths diverged in a wood…and here I am, staring down both of them. Only, I know what’s in store; I know where they lead. Path number one is the right choice, of course. The obvious choice. The good choice. The moral high ground. Path number two is the choice only a desperate person would make. A fool’s trip. One that leads to nowhere good. And yet…what choice do I have?

I could try to explain myself. But you wouldn’t understand. No one can possibly understand. Not until they’ve walked a mile in my shoes, and believe me, they wouldn’t want that, either. My shoes are currently taking on blood faster than the Titanic took on water. 

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. 

I can do this. 

I have to do this. 

I wring my hands out, wiping my sweaty palms on my shorts. Sweat slides down my spine. No, not a job for an amateur at all. 

Thankfully, I’ve read up on the bio-recovery industry. Most people refer to it as crime scene cleanup—biohazard remediation—trauma scene restoration. Point is—they’re the people who come out and clean blood, bodily fluids, and other potentially dangerous materials following less than desirable situations. It’s a specialty. A career path people actually chose. So many possibilities, when you think of it. So many paths one can take. I can almost hear my father saying, your imagination is your only limitation. 

He may have been wrong about that, judging by the state of this room. The business of death cleanup requires a cold disposition and a strong stomach. And unfortunately, I have only one of the two. 

What I also don’t have is time. 

Twenty-four minutes. The clock is running down, and I have no timeouts left. Time marches on, reminding me even the best-laid plans rarely go off without a hitch. 

Hitches. Now there’s something I’m familiar with. I just hadn’t expected one of this magnitude. That was my mistake. But it wasn’t the first one, and looking around, it isn’t going to be the last. 

I slide my phone into my back pocket again and open the closet. I could stuff them in there. Maybe. Unfortunately, old houses have small closets, and it would take quite a bit of effort to make them fit. And perhaps a few broken bones. 

For a second, I think I might actually be losing it and I wonder if this is what they mean by the term psychotic break. I consider calling someone. But who? What kind of friend do you call to get you out of a jam like this? 

Problem is, I know exactly what kind of friend. 

But I won’t go there. I can’t go there. 

Bad things happen when I go there. 

Things worse than this. 

You wouldn’t think anything could be worse than this. 

But again, you wouldn’t understand. 

I hope you’re not offended. I’m not saying you’re stupid or anything. 

It’s not you. 

Most people wouldn’t understand.

Probably not even these two, I tell myself, and then I don’t know why I do it, but I lean down, pull back the covers, and really take them in. The waxy skin, the bloated faces, or what’s left of them anyway, the transfixed eyes. You might think they look peaceful, but you would be wrong. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. And I see many in my future. 

My phone dings. The sound startles me, and I practically leap into the bed with them. My knee bumps the mattress, and a hand flops over the side, brushing my bare skin. Every expletive I know floods my mind as I dance back. They’d come pouring out of my mouth, but I’m too afraid to open it. My phone dings again. I stare at the hand and think: this can’t be real. Then I back away and read the text. Where are you? I can’t believe this is happening. Finally. 

He has no idea. 

This is sick, he writes.

I look around the room. Truly. 

Sick as in a BFD. 

I know what you mean; I text backHe likes it when I’m up on my acronyms. He is not one who likes to explain himself, and he reads minds like it’s his profession.

It is a big effing deal. 

It’s not every day that you hold an engagement party of this magnitude at your venue, but that is exactly what is happening in precisely twenty-one minutes. The entire town will be here. What a disaster this is going to turn out to be. Looking back, I should have said no. I tried to say no. I did say no. 

It didn’t work. And anyway, as for him being here, it was a favor to make up for that other favor. 

My phone chimes again. Thank God for small favors!

I shake my head. It appears a favor is what got me into this, and a favor is going to have to be what gets me out.

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