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The Replacement: A Psychological Thriller | Book 2 | The New Hope Series (Ebook)

The Replacement: A Psychological Thriller | Book 2 | The New Hope Series (Ebook)

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A riveting, powerful psychological thriller which offers a savage look into a utopian cultish society where beauty and perfection are valued at all costs.

About The Book

Statistically speaking, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. What are the odds for murder?

Widower Tom Anderson is a savant with more affinity for numbers than people. Problem is, one is a lonely number. Thankfully, he solved for X by finding the perfect woman. It wasn’t easy. Tom is very specific. He has to be.

Having checked ‘find trophy wife’ off his list, life was moving along swimmingly. Until that perfect woman let it slip—she has a past. One she kept hidden, almost perfectly.

Sure, she lied—she fudged the numbers. Most women do.

Now, Tom has buyers’ remorse and according to cult rules only two options: get rid of her—or single-handedly erase her past.

She’s a liar. But she does keep house well. And she makes a mean lasagna.

Decisions, decisions.

Razor-sharp and utterly gripping, this electrifying story explores the lengths one will go in the pursuit of perfection, little white lies that can turn lethal, and the danger lurking behind the smiles of those we trust most.

Read a sample

PROLOGUE

 

What I’m thinking is…this isn’t going to end well. At least not for me. How I’m feeling is, not ready to die. What I know is, everybody’s somebody’s fool. And, whoever said small things don’t matter, never lit a wildfire with a single match.

Let’s say you are at a stop light and in the car next to you is a girl—the words ‘about to die’ stamped on her forehead, the word ‘doomed’ written all over her—and let’s pretend that girl is me.

This is the opposite of a joke. This can’t be real.

If only I’d known then what I know now.

Unfortunately, rumination is useless at this point. I’m on borrowed time, so I try once again to dial out. I reposition the phone. It’s not working. I have half a bar, which basically amounts to no cell service. I try 9-1-1 and wait for a connection. Then I try Tom’s number. No luck there either.

It’s hard to save your life when you’ve downed half a bottle of scotch. The wine I used as a chaser didn’t help.

This reminds me, I press the button for the Instalook app. Surely, out of fifty thousand followers, one of them can help me. I’ll go live when the time is right. Even without service, I can record.

I clear my throat, in search of my voice.

Testing, testing, one, two, three.

God, I hope you can hear me.

I speak low and carefully into the camera. I always forget which dot I’m supposed to focus on, so I shift until I’m sure I’m front and center on the screen. I once read it’s all about the eyes. I turn and shift the phone so that it’s at a good angle for selfies. Beth taught me this little trick. It’s a bit cramped in here and it’s dark, so I’m sure if this is actually even working, it looks all Blair Witch Project. You’re probably thinking, how do I even know this is for real? I don’t know how to answer that except to say that I once saw a thing on TV about how many people witness a crime and do nothing. It’s a very real thing. I know because it happened to me too. If I ever get out of here, I’ll tell you all about it. For now, it’s a rather long story, and I’m afraid we haven’t got time for it.

Anyway, I say into the camera. My voice comes out as a whisper. Squeaky, terrified. Meek. Not like me at all. Maybe this Instalook Live thing is working. I don’t know. If you can even hear me, I don’t know. But if you can, listen. And if you’re listening, this is the story of everything that went wrong.

Part confession. Part last rites. My final prayer.

Hear me. See me. Remember me. 

I’m trapped—on my way to my final destination, my eternal resting place. And there are so many things I’d like to change but can’t.

I’m going to die. In the end, all I’ll ever be is just another lie on someone’s lips.

This recording is…evidence. How very hopeful I was. How very stupid. So, if you can hear me—if you’re listening— it wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not with me in the trunk of a car, headed for God knows where. Not with me dead.

I would have gone away quietly.

It’s too late for that now.

My stomach churns. Choppy waters, this business of dying.

I feel nothing. I feel everything.

You fall to your highest level of preparation, he said that once. How prophetic.

That’s the problem. Well, that’s one of them. I wasn’t prepared. Not for this. Probably, I should have thought to stay sober. But no, one drink turned into two, which turned into… God knows how many. Look what you’ve done.I was only trying to send a message. I should have known better.

Never let them take you to a second location. I should have forced him to kill me there. It’s just—I’m not ready to die. I always thought I’d be old. I thought I’d have wrinkles and saggy skin…laugh lines well earned.

You fall to your highest level of preparation. Of all of the lines he used, this is the one that sticks out the most. It taunts me, as though it could somehow help me now.My father used to say that too.Turns out, he was right.I shouldn’t have let my husband skimp on our cell service. I should have argued that these things are important. Given the one thing that could possibly save my life says searching…searching…searching…I should have fought harder. This thing that I’m holding, this thing that’s filming me. It’s useless. It’s basically just a holder for apps. A façade, like everything else. The illusion of safety.

My head swims.

Regret tastes horrible, in case you’re wondering.

Everything hurts.

You should have stuck to the plan.I know that now.

What I don’t know is, how he plans to kill me. Will it be quick? Will the liquor dull the effects? Will he make me suffer?

You never should have gotten mixed up in this. I know that too.

I can still picture the night we met, him sitting at the bar. I can still hear the music. Jazz, I think. Focus. Only seven percent of any given message is based on the words. Thirty-eight percent comes from the tone of voice and fifty-five percent from the speaker’s body language and face.

“Have you any interest in playing a game?” he asked over his dirty martini. Funny, I can remember his expensive suit but not the expression he wore.

“Depends on the game…” I’d said with a shrug. A playful, stupid shrug. That sums up what I was—so sure of myself, so foolish in the end.

I remember he smiled. “It’s a fun one,” he assured me. I can’t recall his tone.

He raised his finger, and the bartender placed another drink in front of me. Researchers have found that humans have a limited capacity for keeping focus in complex, stressful situations like negotiations. Less, if there’s alcohol involved. 

I remember feeling brave. That’s before I knew enough to know I’m not. I cocked my head, took him in. “Unless you’re on the losing end.”

“Ah, a skeptic,” he said. I remember he was handsome. Not spectacularly so, but enough to take notice. Not that it mattered. “Let’s start with truth or dare.”

I sipped my martini. His choice. I hadn’t realized it wasn’t a question. When it’s important, never lead with a question, always a suggestion.“I’m going to assume you want to go first so…truth.”

Another smile. “Excellent choice,” he remarked. “I’ve always had an affinity for the truth.”

You have to feel for the truth behind the camouflage; you have to note the small pauses that suggest discomfort and lies. Don’t look to verify what you expect. If you do, that’s what you’ll find.“Most people do.”

“Now that there is a lie.” He shook his head slowly when he spoke. So cool. So confident. Breadcrumbs.“Most people only want the truth as long as it works out in their favor.”

“I can’t speak for most people.” Maybe it was the drink. Maybe I was just feeding him what he wanted to hear. Maybe I was just naive. It’s too late to know.

That all seems like a lifetime ago. The night we met.

He toasted me. “Shall we begin?”

I lifted my brow and then my glass. “Begin away.”

That’s not really where it began. I know that now.

“Do you see yourself settling down?”

I almost choked. Sometimes, but not often, I was taken by surprise. Get on the same page at the outset. You have to clearly understand the lay of the land before you consider acting within its confines. Why are you there? What do you want? What do they want? Why?I didn’t think to ask those questions. Not of myself and certainly not of him. “Settle down? You mean with a picket fence and two point five children?”

He stuck out his bottom lip, his shoulders rose to his ears. “Something like that.”

I gave it some thought. My mind was already made up. “Maybe.”

You?” he said, eyeing my dress. “You think you could be domesticated?”

I narrowed my eyes. Classic NLP. Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I didn’t know then what I know now. Insult them at the onset; they’ll work harder to prove you wrong. “Why not me?” I scoffed. I sat up straighter, mocking him as though I was offended. Maybe a part of me was.

He touched the rim of his glass to his lips. “You don’t think you’re too young?”

I laughed. “My mother often reminds me that when she was my age, she was two years married and pregnant with me.”

His brow lifted. “Is your mother happy?”

I gulped my martini. “She is now.”

“So, you don’t think most people are living a lie?”

“Meaning what?”

“In marriage. Family. You don’t think it’s all a show?”

“Like I said, I can’t speak for most people.”

He spoke directly, affirmatively. But you think you’d be happy under such confined conditions?”

It was a leading question. I played right into it. “I think I could be, yes.”

“Not a skeptic then,” he decided. “An idealist.”

“Is it not the truth you are seeking?”

He leaned back, away from me. Give them space. The further they fall. “You’re good,” he’d said. “I’ll give you that.” I waited while he glanced around the bar before turning his attention back to me. “I don’t know.” I watched as he drummed his fingers on the table. “Somehow, I just don’t see you as the type to be content with that sort of life.”

“You don’t know me.”

He knew me better than I thought.

“Maybe you’re right. But as the Danish folk say, ‘you bake with the flour you have.’ ” His eyes were on my legs. I remember that.

“Are you Danish?”

“No, but that’s the point. You can’t be what you’re not.”

“I’d have to be. I’m not that good of a liar.”

He half-heartedly scoffed. “Oh, I’d beg to differ.”

I shook my head. “I keep the emotions real. Maybe not the rest, but the way I feel, I’m not so good at hiding that.”

“In that case, how about a dare?”

“Hmmm,” I said, stalling. For what, I didn’t know. “Those require a lot of trust.” I cocked my head studying him. “I’m not sure I know you well enough for that.”

“Faith,” he countered. “More than trust.”

“Right.”

“Is that a yes?”

I smirked. “It’s a maybe.”

“Have dinner with me.”

“Is that your dare?”

“Not exactly.”

“What is it then?”

His eyes settled on mine. There was no hesitation in what he said next. “It’s an invitation to make the biggest mistake of your life.”

I started to tell him he had no idea how high the bar was set. Instead, I settled on, “sounds promising.”

“Oh, it is.”

I sipped my drink slowly, when really I felt like downing the rest of it. I asked the bartender for a glass of water. “But who would accept an offer like that?”

His expression was serious. “I was hoping you would.”

I smiled, which was in effect my answer.

Now, I realize he was wrong. That invitation wasn’t the biggest mistake of my life. It wasn’t any of the stuff that had happened before; it wasn’t trusting the wrong person, or having one too many. Not that night. And not now, either. My biggest mistake was falling in love.

You leave me no choice. I drift back to a time when I had a choice. They say the mind goes to strange places when confronted with death.

The car accelerates, and I realize we’ve reached the highway. There’s no turning back.

Put up a fight. How? And why, if you know you can’t win? Even if I could somehow run for it, I’d always be running. Sure, I could mess with the taillights, cross my fingers we’d get pulled over. I could try and locate the emergency hatch. At least this way, I will die an internet celebrity. This way my life will have meant something.

My breath comes heavier. I feel a panic attack coming on. Not that I’ve ever had one, but I’ve never cared for small, dark places.

Frantically, I search for wires. They make it look so easy in the movies. Here, in real life, it’s no use. I guess you don’t always get so lucky. And anyway, I’m not the captive of an amateur.

If you can’t save yourself, save someone else. Leave clues like breadcrumbs. They’re more likely to find you that way. 

I left my clothes. Pantyhose first, panties, and at last my bra. Like a proper drunk. And now, I leave you this. I can’t be sure anyone will actually see it. I can’t even make a call. But Instalook says there are eighteen thousand of you geared up, in queue, waiting to watch my demise, I say, my face centered on the screen. Many more before now. Some of you, I say into the camera, maybe most of you, won’t believe me. You may say this is fake. It doesn’t matter. If believability is what you want, then I suggest sticking to the safety of the neatly colored lines of your own life. And for God’s sake, if a hero is what you’re looking for, let me say this up front: you’re in the wrong story.

As for the rest of you, I’m going to die. I promise a good show.

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