Authors: Carla Cassidy
Praise for the Novels of Carla Cassidy
Every Move You Make
“[A] taut, fast-paced romantic thriller … [the] romantic shines.”
“Cassidy’s storytelling skills are strong in this suspenseful tale of murder and unexpected romance.”
“[A] breathtaking mystery … pulls you in from the first page and keeps you on the edge of your seat.… This is an excellent romantic suspense, and one I recommend you rush out to get.”
“Carla Cassidy has outdone herself with this dark, complex thriller.… This is a fantastic story told by a marvelous storyteller, and comes highly recommended.”
Affaire de Coeur
Paint It Red
“This nicely crafted mystery has a number of believable suspects … a cleverly interwoven romance, and plenty of suspense.”
“[A] page-turner. Cassidy’s balance of detail and action will keep you intrigued. As the story builds, the tension, suspense, and romance explode, making for a great read.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“[A] new spin on an old story … smart and intricate … Cassidy knows how to let a mystery unfold and how to draft a heroine.… A genuinely worthy addition to the family suspense drama subgenre.”
“The suspense was so riveting I could not put the book down.… This is the first book I have read by Carla Cassidy and it will not be the last. Filled with romance, well-developed characters, suspense, and mystery, this is definitely not a book to be missed!”
—Suspense Romance Writers
Without a Sound
“Tense … exhilarating.”
Midwest Book Review
Are You Afraid?
“Cassidy’s sharp new thriller boasts an easy, masterful balance that’s rare and ambitious for a suspense novel. Quiet details make Cassidy’s novel work.… Smooth, simple prose tells a full story that’s equal parts romance, family drama, and sheer terror.”
The Perfect Family
“[An] exciting thriller.”
—The Best Reviews
“Gritty and gripping psychological suspense is rapidly becoming Cassidy’s hallmark.
The Perfect Family
is creepy and frightening—but really intense, fun reading.”
Promise Him Anything
“Exciting romantic suspense … a terrific tale.”
Midwest Book Reviews
“Ms. Cassidy grabs you from the first page.… I highly recommend this read to any fan of the romantic suspense genre. You won’t be sorry.”
Books by Carla Cassidy – Don’t Turn Out the Light
Copyright © 2008 Carla Bracale All Rights Reserved.
e loved her. Mariah Sayers hugged the knowledge close to her heart as she hurried home through the darkness of the night.
She’d taken a big chance sneaking out of her bedroom window to meet Clay, but that afternoon at school he’d told her it was important, so she’d agreed to meet him in the gazebo in the town square.
She’d been secretly dating Clay Matheson for the last three months, and tonight he’d told her he was in love with her and that as soon as they both turned eighteen, they’d get married.
Dancing through the dewy grass, she felt her heart was so full it might explode. She’d never known this kind of happiness before. Never in her whole miserable life.
Some of her euphoria waned as the Sayers house came into view. A two-story farmhouse, it sat on four wooded acres. Even through the trees, Mariah could see that the light in her father’s study was lit.
If he knew she’d sneaked out, he’d be waiting to deliver his brand of punishment. The backs of her thighs burned at the thought of the thick willow
switch he kept in an umbrella stand next to the front door.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” Reverend Jed Sayers would shout as the willow switch whistled through the air with enough force to draw blood.
Maybe he’s just working on Sunday’s sermon, she thought as she slowed her pace. Please don’t let him be waiting for me.
If he caught her coming back in through the window, he’d just assume she’d been up to no good. He wouldn’t believe she was still a virgin, that she and Clay had agreed to wait until their wedding night. Her father always thought the worst of her, expected her to be sinful and bad.
She paused beneath an old oak tree, waiting just another minute or two so she could savor the feeling of loving and being loved. In the distance lightning flashed, followed by a low rumble of thunder. The air smelled of the approaching spring storm and she hoped her father went to bed before it started to rain.
An unexpected gust of wind rustled through the trees and sent a shiver dancing along her bare arms. She hated storms. A sigh of relief escaped her as she saw her father’s light go off. He would never have turned it off if he knew she wasn’t in the house.
She’d give it a couple of minutes; then she’d crawl back up the tree and into the window she’d left by, and nobody would be the wiser.
Thunder crashed again and a rustling noise sounded from behind her, but before she could turn to see what it was, something dark was yanked over her head and she was shoved off her feet.
She hit the ground on her back, the air whooshing out of her lungs. “If you scream, I’ll kill you,” a
deep guttural voice whispered through the bag that covered her head.
Her breath returned with a sob of terror. “Don’t move,” the voice whispered as her assailant grabbed her wrists and bound them together.
Oh God, what was happening? What did he want? She didn’t want to die. A scream clawed up the back of her throat, but she clamped her mouth closed, afraid to release it.
If she screamed, her father might hear. If she screamed, the man who lay on top of her would kill her. Someplace in the back of her mind beyond the terror, she wasn’t sure which would be worse.
She heard the faint whisper of a zipper and then she knew. Her blood chilled as he shoved his hand up beneath her skirt and touched her on her panties, where nobody had ever touched her before.
He growled like an animal and ripped down her panties. The scream she’d swallowed seconds before rose up once again and released itself, a muffled cry that nobody could hear above the booming thunder and screeching wind.
He took her then, savagely, brutally, and as he did, she found a place in her mind to hide, a place she’d been before when the switch whistled in the air above her father’s head.
It wasn’t until he was finished with her that her terror returned. She heard the zip of his pants and waited for death.
“I broke you,” he whispered, “and now I have a piece of you that belongs to me forever.”
And then he was gone.
he’d expected ghosts. She’d anticipated dark memories and the faint stir of remembered terror. What Mariah Sayers didn’t expect was the odd sense of homecoming that swept over her when she saw the sign that read
PLAINS POINT, MISSOURI—10 MILES
She’d sworn she’d never come back here. When she’d left sixteen years before, she’d made herself that promise. But, as in all things,
was never for certain.
“Hey.” She reached out and nudged the sleeping teenager in the passenger seat. “Better sit up and wipe the sleep from your eyes. We’re almost there.”
Kelsey uttered a groan without opening her eyes. She was never particularly pleasant when first waking. “I can’t believe you dragged me out here,” she complained. “This is probably going to be the worst summer of my life.” She finally opened her eyes and stretched her arms overhead, her T-shirt riding up to expose her slim, tanned stomach.
“I’m sure you’re right,” Mariah replied. “This will be the worst summer of your life and it will forever scar you. After this, whenever you approach a small
town, you’ll break out into hives and have horrible nightmares.”
Kelsey gave an unladylike snort. “Nightmares are your deal, Mom, not mine.”
Mariah didn’t reply. Her daughter was right. Mariah had suffered from nightmares for far too many years of her life. She hoped this trip would offer some closure with a past that had haunted her for too long.
Kelsey reached out and punched on the radio, hitting the button to seek a station. Another groan escaped her as the first two that tuned in offered rousing country-and-western music.
“And hell is waiting for the sinners of this earth,” a deep voice boomed from the radio.
“Turn it off,” Mariah said, an icy chill washing through her.
There must have been something in her voice that made her daughter instantly comply. She hit the off button and that deep voice was silenced.
“Is that what he sounded like?” Kelsey asked.
Mariah nodded and loosened her grip on the steering wheel. “There was nothing my father loved more than preaching about damnation, unless it was hitting me with that willow switch.”
“I’m glad he’s dead,” Kelsey exclaimed.
Jed Sayers’s death had brought them here. He’d passed two weeks before and to Mariah’s stunned surprise had left her the house and everything in it.
Her father’s lawyer had contacted her three days ago to let her know that her father was dead and buried and she needed to let him know what she intended to do about the estate.
During that phone call she’d learned her mother had died a year before. The bastard who had been
her father hadn’t even let her know that her mother was ill.
“Everything is so green,” Kelsey observed as she stared out the passenger window at the plush pasture.
Mariah smiled. “It’s spring.” The only real sign of spring Kelsey saw at their high-rise apartment in Chicago was the flowers that Mariah bought to fill pots that decorated their balcony.
Kelsey was an urban teenager, accustomed to taking the train or grabbing a taxi to get wherever she needed to go. In Chicago she and her friends had shops, restaurants, theaters and museums at their fingertips.
Plains Point, Missouri, was definitely going to be a culture shock. When Mariah had left town, there hadn’t even been a McDonald’s anywhere in the vicinity.
“How long are we gonna be here?” Kelsey now asked. She twisted a strand of her long dark hair around one of her fingers in a nervous gesture from childhood.
“I can’t answer that,” Mariah replied. She tightened her hands on the steering wheel as she saw the exit ramp for the small town. “It depends on what we find when we get there. I have to figure out what to do with all the contents of the house, then see what needs to be done to get it on the market. The only thing I can promise is that we’ll be back in Chicago when school starts in September.”
“This summer is gonna suck,” Kelsey announced with all the authority a teenager could muster.
Mariah didn’t reply as she slowed and turned on Main Street. She had expected Plains Point to have
gone the way of so many little towns in the Midwest. She’d expected to see boarded-up storefronts and a small town gasping its final breath.
She was surprised to see that Main Street seemed to be thriving with new businesses that hadn’t been there when she’d left town years ago.
“At least they have Chinese,” Kelsey said as she pointed out a maroon awning announcing the establishment as the Red Dragon.
An office-supply store, a dress boutique and a veterinarian’s office were just a few of the new businesses. Mariah supposed the small town had thrived because of its close proximity to Kansas City. It was only an hour’s drive from Plains Point to the bigger city.
Mariah had read an article recently that indicated that people were choosing to drive long distances to work in exchange for small-town living.
The tension built inside Mariah’s chest as they passed the town square. In the center of the square was not only City Hall, surrounded by a grassy park, but also a public swimming pool and the gazebo where a teenage boy had once proclaimed his undying love for her.
She wondered what had happened to Clay Matheson. In the back of her mind she would always wonder if he had been the one who had followed her home that night and taken what she hadn’t been willing to give him.
“At least there’s a pool,” Kelsey said, breaking into her mother’s thoughts.
“During the summers all the kids used to hang out there,” Mariah replied.
“I’ve never seen you swim,” Kelsey exclaimed.
“That’s true. My parents never let me go to the pool, so I never learned how.”
“Maybe I can teach you while we’re here. There probably won’t be much else to do.” The last sentence was muttered beneath Kelsey’s breath.
Mariah sighed. “Honey, I know this isn’t how you wanted to spend your summer. It wasn’t what I had in mind either, but we both just have to make the best of things.”
As she turned off onto a small lane, the tension in her stomach knotted like a fist when she saw the two-story house nestled amid a grove of thick, mature trees.
The house itself held enough bad memories to make an oversized scrapbook, but it was the wooded area that surrounded the house that screamed of a horror she’d never quite gotten past.
She tried to keep her gaze off the spot where she’d stood and waited for her father to go to bed, the place where she’d been brutally attacked.
“Ugh, it looks like a dump,” Kelsey said as Mariah pulled up in front of the house and parked.
“It definitely needs a coat of paint.” Mariah shut off the car engine and sat for a moment, staring at the house, with its sweeping front porch and detached garage. It had once been a pristine white with black shutters, but now the paint had weathered to a dull gray and several of the shutters hung askew.
She’d heard from the lawyer that her father had been ill for some time before his death. He’d apparently been too ill to take care of things and too proud to ask for help.
The yard was in even worse shape than the house, with knee-high weeds that choked off any promise of spring flowers that might attempt to grow.
The ghosts she’d feared would grip her upon reaching the town now slithered fingers up her spine as her gaze drifted from the house to the grove of trees alongside it.
Who? That single question had whispered in the back of her mind for the past sixteen years. Who had attacked her that night?
She heard the rumble of thunder and smelled the scent of the forthcoming storm, and the back of her throat closed up as she imagined the slick plastic over her face, the press of somebody hard and heavy against her.
Mariah stifled a scream as Kelsey’s voice brought her back to the present.
“Are we going to go inside or are we going to sit in the car for the rest of the night?” Kelsey asked, a touch of exasperation in her voice.
“We’re going inside,” Mariah replied. She knew Kelsey was tired from the long car ride, hungry for something other than junk food and not looking forward to a summer without her friends back in Chicago.
“Let’s get settled in and then we’ll try out that Chinese restaurant we saw as we drove through town,” she said.
“Now you’re talking,” Kelsey replied as she got out of the car.
It took three trips from the car to the porch to get everything that they’d brought with them. Mariah
used the key her father’s lawyer had sent to her to open the door.
A musty, closed-up scent greeted them as they stepped into the foyer. Mariah’s gaze shot to the corner where the familiar umbrella holder stood, and nestled next to the old black umbrella were two long switches, the wood now pale and brittle.
A touch of bitterness welled up inside her. He’d kept them there all these years as if in anticipation of one last opportunity to punish his errant daughter.
“Phew, we need to open up some windows,” Kelsey said as she dropped the suitcase she’d carried in.
As she went around opening windows, Mariah stood in the hallway and tried to think of one moment of joy that she’d experienced within these walls.
Her father had presented himself to the world as a pious, godly man, but in truth he’d been domineering and abusive. Her mother had been a cold woman who never should have had the privilege of bearing a child. Mariah wasn’t sure which of her parents she blamed more for her unhappy childhood—the father who beat her or the mother who silently condoned it.
“Mom?” Kelsey walked back to the foyer. “You’re going to freak when you see the kitchen. It doesn’t look like it’s been cleaned for about ten years.”
“I don’t think I’m ready to face that just yet. Why don’t we go upstairs and see where we’re going to sleep while we’re here.”
Kelsey bounded up the stairs with more enthusiasm for exploring than Mariah felt. She followed her daughter more slowly, trying to shake off the faint
edge of depression that had fallen over her the moment she’d opened the front door.
The carpeting going up the stairs was threadbare and the wooden spindles were dusty. A little lemon oil would take care of the dust and she suspected beneath the carpeting was oak flooring that would be beautiful when sanded and varnished.
The house was free and clear of debt and Mariah figured she could afford to put a little money into it in order to get top dollar when it resold. That would put a tidy sum of money into Kelsey’s college fund.
Kelsey had disappeared and Mariah hurried up the rest of the stairs to find her. The first bedroom was a small guest room that held only a bare double bed and a dresser. The second bedroom had been Mariah’s and it was there she found Kelsey.
The girl stood at the window and when Mariah entered the room, she turned to face her mother. “This was your room, wasn’t it?” She pointed to the window. “That was the tree you used to climb down to sneak out.”
Mariah moved to stand next to her at the window. The big, leafy oak tree had been her vehicle of escape. “That’s it.” She placed an arm around Kelsey’s shoulder. “Now that I look at the tree, I’m surprised I didn’t break a leg or an arm on one of my rare escapes.”
Kelsey leaned her head against Mariah. “You know what I think?”
“I think we should have a switch-burning party tonight. Maybe we could pick up some marshmallows and roast them in the fireplace as we watch those stupid sticks burn.”
Mariah tightened her arm around her daughter,
love welling up inside her. She’d told Kelsey a lot about her childhood, but there were many secrets she hadn’t told her and some lies that had been told as truths.
“Just think of it this way. If things hadn’t been so terrible here, I never would have run away. And if I hadn’t run away, I wouldn’t have met your father and had you. And having you was the very best thing that I’ve ever done in my whole life.”
Kelsey laughed and moved out of her mother’s embrace. “You’re just trying to butter me up so I won’t be a pain in your ass while we’re here.”
“There is that,” Mariah agreed with a laugh.
“Can I have the guest room across the hall?” Kelsey asked.
“Sure. Let’s see if we can find some clean linens in the hall closet.”
The closet yielded the required linens and as Kelsey got busy making up the bed where she’d sleep, Mariah wandered down the hallway. The bathroom was in relatively good shape, although she was surprised to see the same blue flowered guest towels hanging on the rack as when she was still living at home. When Mariah had lived here, there had never been a guest in the house; it was no wonder they still looked new.
Her parents’ room was at the end of the hallway and she stepped inside and gazed around, unsurprised that the room was smaller than she remembered. The double bed had been stripped to the mattress and the only thing on the wall was a large silver cross that hung just above the bed.
Why had her father left her everything? Had it been a desperate act of contrition from a dying man?
Or had he simply wanted to pull her back here one more time, back to the place of her misery? If she was to guess, it was the latter. Jed would have considered it one last act of domination to know that even in death he’d had the power to bring her back here.
It took them a little over an hour to get the bedrooms ready for occupancy and carry up their things. While Kelsey was setting up her computer, Mariah wandered back downstairs.
She peeked into the kitchen and stifled a groan. The old linoleum on the floor was stained and curling up at the edges. The countertops looked as if they hadn’t seen a soapy sponge in decades. She refused to look in the refrigerator, afraid of what horrors might await her there.
Tomorrow, she told herself. She’d face this mess tomorrow. From the kitchen she went into what had once been a dining room but for as long as she remembered had been her father’s study.
This had been her father’s kingdom, the big black leather chair behind the old wooden desk his throne. And it had been in this room where he’d mete out his punishments.