I'll Never Let You Go (Morgans of Nashville)

BOOK: I'll Never Let You Go (Morgans of Nashville)
2.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Outstanding praise for Mary Burton and her novels!
“Will keep you up all night reading.”
The Parkersburg News & Sentinel
“Burton takes the reader on another of her high-speed roller coaster rides.”
“Burton once again demonstrates her romantic suspense chops with this taut novel. Burton plays cat-and-mouse with the reader through a tight plot, with credible suspects and romantic spice keeping it real.”
Publishers Weekly
“Serial killers, vendettas, tortured souls and romance are the main ingredients in
You’re Not Safe
. Beware! As one of Burton’s main characters might say, she has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve.”
“Mary Burton is one of the best romantic thriller writers around.”
The Pilot
(Southern Pines, North Carolina)
“Burton really has a way with plot lines and her delivery is flawless.
You’re Not Safe
carries just the right amount of suspense, creepiness and romance, that when mixed together, creates a satisfying mystery with a shocker of an ending.”
“A thrill a minute . . . there is no escaping the fact that with
No Escape
, Mary Burton delivers again.”
The Jefferson County Post
“Dark and disturbing, a well-written tale of obsession and murder.”
Kat Martin,
New York Times
bestselling author
Please turn the page for more rave reviews!
“Burton’s crisp storytelling, solid pacing and well-developed plot will draw you in and the strong suspense will keep you hooked and make this story hard to put down.”
RT Book Reviews
“A nail-biter that you will not want to miss. Terrifying . . . it keeps you on the edge of your chair.”
The Free Lance–Star
(Fredericksburg, Virginia)
“Will have readers sleeping with the lights on.”
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
“Convincing detective lingo and an appropriately shivery murder venue go a long way.”
Publishers Weekly
“Burton just keeps getting better!”
RT Book Reviews
“Terrifying . . . this chilling thriller is an engrossing story.”
Library Journal
“Mary Burton’s latest romantic suspense has it all—terrific plot, complex and engaging protagonists, a twisted villain, and enough crime-scene detail to satisfy the most savvy suspense reader.”
Erica Spindler,
New York Times
bestselling author
“Stieg Larsson fans will find a lot to like in Burton’s taut, well-paced novel of romantic suspense.”
Publishers Weekly
“This is a page turner of a story, one that will keep you up all night, with every twist in the plot and with all of the doors locked.”
The Parkersburg News & Sentinel
“With hard-edged, imperfect but memorable characters, a complex plot and no-nonsense dialog, this excellent novel will appeal to fans of Lisa Gardner and Lisa Jackson.”
Library Journal
“Absolutely chilling! Don’t miss this well-crafted, spine-tingling read.”
Brenda Novak,
New York Times
bestselling author
“A terrifying novel of suspense.”
Mysterious Reviews
“This is a story to read with the lights on.”
“Burton’s taut, fast-paced thriller will have you guessing until the last blood-soaked page. Keep the lights on for this one.”
RT Book Reviews
“A twisted tale . . . I couldn’t put it down!”
Lisa Jackson,
New York Times
bestselling author
“Dangerous secrets, deadly truths and a diabolical killer combine to make Mary Burton’s
Dead Ringer
a chilling thriller.”
Beverly Barton,
New York Times
bestselling author
“With a gift for artful obfuscation, Burton juggles a budding romance and two very plausible might-be perpetrators right up to the tense conclusion.”
Publishers Weekly
“Taut . . . compelling . . . Mary Burton delivers a page-turner.”
Carla Neggers,
New York Times
bestselling author
“Creepy and terrifying, it will give you chills.”
Romantic Times
Books by Mary Burton
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
January 25, Midnight
Four Years Earlier
Nashville, Tennessee
Leah never slept deeply. Her brain, always on alert, skimmed just below consciousness, waiting for him to return. Not a matter of if he’d strike. A matter of when.
When floorboards creaked and a cold wind whispered in the shifting shadows of her first-floor apartment, Leah bolted up in bed. Gripping the sheets, heart slamming, she reached for her phone on the nightstand and waited, her thumb poised over the emergency 9-1-1 speed dial. Seconds passed. Was this another false alarm? Another nightmare? Or had her estranged husband finally come to kill her as he’d promised?
Adrenaline surged and rushed through sinew and bone, pricking the underside of her skin as she listened and waited.
The temptation to call the cops pulled, beckoned, screamed. But she’d cried wolf too often. Too many false alarms had been sounded. The last annoyed officer, his voice rough with frustration, had told her to count to ten before she called again.
“One. Two. Three.” Her breathing quick and shallow, she listened, expecting footsteps, but hearing only silence and the
thud, thud, thud
of her heart.
God, she was so tired. She needed sleep. Freedom. Peace. She needed her life back.
During the day, Philip was always there, standing and watching. He sent her flowers. Called her cell at all hours. Left scrawled messages under her windshield wipers.
You can’t escape. I own you
. Months of his relentless pursuit had stretched frayed nerves to breaking. During the day, she jumped at every creak, bump, and footfall, and at night, terrors jerked her from sleep, leaving her fully awake, tension gripping her chest and shallow breathing chasing a racing heart.
Holding her breath, she listened as she stared at her locked bedroom door. Again, she heard nothing save for the hum of the furnace.
“Four. Five. Six.”
She scrambled for a logical reason to explain this latest scare. It was Tuesday. That meant her roommate, Greta, was working the late shift at the bar. Greta closed on Tuesdays. How many times had Leah awoken screaming when Greta had returned home late? Poor, normal Greta, grad student and bartender, now moved slowly and quietly on Tuesday nights, fearful any sound would send her roommate into hysterics.
Leah glanced at the clock. Midnight. Too early for Greta. She listened, heartbeat still jackhammering. Thank God, no more sounds. Had this been another dream? Another false alarm? Yes. Maybe. “Seven. Eight. Nine.”
Slowly, she lowered to her pillow, clutching the phone to her chest, eyes wide open, staring at the swathe of shadows slicing across the ceiling.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
The day she’d finally fled her marriage had begun as it always did. Fights, a barrage of questions, her promising to come home as soon as she got off work. But that morning, she’d been at her desk when a coworker had asked her about the bruises on her arm. She’d lied of course, but this time, the words hadn’t tumbled freely. Instead, they soured on her tongue. Sickened, she’d asked for the afternoon off. No matter how much she’d hoped, his contrition always faded and his temper flared, quick and hot, scorching
I’m sorry
to ash.
She had no plan when she’d returned to their apartment and then quickly cramming clothes into three green trash bags.
Take only what you need. Get the hell out of here fast.
The words slammed as hard as his fists.
When she’d twisted off her wedding band and laid it on the kitchen counter, it was exactly three o’clock in the afternoon, just thirty minutes before his shift ended. She’d dragged the bags into the hallway, and when the apartment door slammed behind her, she’d actually felt free.
It’s over. It’s over.
But it wasn’t.
Philip had called her cell seconds after five that same day. Guilt had prompted her to take that first call as she’d sat in the shabby motel room, surrounded by her life in trash bags. He’d begged her to return.
I love you. I need you. It will never happen again.
Of course he was sorry. He was always sorry.
He’d sent flowers. Called. Waited outside her office. No matter where she looked, he was there.
Please come back to me. I love you so much.
Floorboards creaked in her closet, and she bolted back up, clutching her hand to her mouth, the pulse drumming under her fingertips. This time, logic couldn’t silence the alarm bells, which clanged louder and angrier until reason scurried away like a frightened mouse. The last time she’d seen Philip, he’d been clutching the restraining order, furious.
This is bullshit! You don’t know what you’ve done!
Her fingers poised over the 9-1-1 direct-dial button, her gaze scanning the darkness. At first glance, nothing was out of place. Her door was closed. Locked along with a dead bolt.
And then, the faint flutter of movement in the shadows inside her closet. Another cold breeze from a half-open window brushed her skin. Time slowed, and even the air in the room grew heavy.
“Hello, Leah.” Philip’s deep voice sounded amused as he stepped out of her closet.
Philip! How had he gotten into her room? Mentally, she ran from lock to lock in the apartment, checking.
He clicked on the overhead light, making her wince at the burst of brightness. Tall, wearing a dark turtleneck, jeans, and boots, his broad shoulders ate up the tiny space of her room. He stared at her, his long fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides. Attached to his waistband was the brown leather holster that cradled a six-inch knife blade. The blade was inches from his right hand.
“Leah.” His voice devoid of concern or fear, as it always did when he came to a decision. There would be no turning back.
Without taking her gaze from him, she hit 9-1-1. A distant “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” echoed from the phone.
“My husband’s going to kill me,” Leah said. “I live at One-Twelve Main Street, Apartment Two. Treemont Apartments.” How many times had she practiced this line, imagining this moment over and over?
“Ma’am, repeat what you just said.” The operator’s voice was clean, crisp, and so blissfully free of fear.
Leah’s hand trembled so badly she thought she’d drop the phone. “He’s found me. He’s in my room.”
“Who’s found you, ma’am?”
Unconcerned, Philip rested his hand on the hilt of the knife.
“My husband. Philip Latimer. He’s going to kill me.”
How long would it take for the cops to arrive? Five minutes? Ten? And how long would it take for him to cross the room and stab her? Seconds.
“How do you know he’ll kill you?” The operator’s voice was flat, emotionless.
“He’s in my bedroom. He has a knife.”
Philip knew exactly how long it took the cops to respond. He was a cop. Saving people like her was his job.
“What’s your name?”
“Leah Carson. Leah Latimer.” She rattled off her address again, fearing she’d be dead before they arrived.
“I’ll send a car,” the operator said. “Stay on the line.”
The words were cold comfort. Philip had broken the protective order. He didn’t care about an arrest or his career. He’d crossed an invisible line, knowing his decision was a one-way trip. His only goal now was to kill her while she could see it all happen.
Tears filled Leah’s eyes as he slid the knife from its holster, the cold metal catching and glinting in the moonlight.
He moved toward the bed, slowly and unhurried. He’d slicked back his thick, blond hair from his angled face, now hardened with purpose. Once, she’d considered his face handsome. Once, she’d looked into those vivid blue eyes and seen love. Once, he’d made her feel protected.
“You’re so beautiful.” His deep voice was smooth, silky, as if they’d bumped into each other on a street corner on a sunny afternoon. He smelled of fresh cold night air and whiskey.
During their marriage, she’d learned to fear him most when he wasn’t ranting or raving but when he was cool and controlled. “Philip, what do you want?”
“I’ve been telling you for weeks. But you won’t listen. I want you back home with me.”
With deliberate slowness, she pulled the covers over the T-shirt that strained against the outline of her breasts. “Philip. How’d you get in here?”
Keep him talking. Buy time. How much time did she need? She’d timed the route once or twice. Without traffic, it took ten minutes.
Those long, callused fingers slid up the blade to the tip. “I’ve missed everything about you.”
“Philip, you shouldn’t be here.” The evenness in her voice belied her fingers tightening into a white-knuckled grip on the comforter.
His thumb circled the knife’s hilt. “Why not? You’re my wife. And this is our wedding anniversary.”
Twelve months ago today they’d exchanged vows. “You need to leave.”
“And if I don’t? What’re you going to do?”
“The cops are coming.”
He traced the knife tip over the comforter, snagging the ice-blue fabric. “I don’t care.”
“Philip. Just go. Get away while you still can.”
He raised the blade to his thumb and pricked the edge. Crimson blood dripped, before he slowly stroked it against the bedsheet. “You were so pretty on our wedding day. Such a beautiful white dress. You carried those pretty purple flowers. What were they called? Irises?”
“Just leave me alone, Philip. Go away. I don’t want to see you arrested. It will ruin your career.” Her pulse thrummed against the soft skin of her neck.
“Until death do us part, Leah. I promised. And so did you.”
Keep talking. “You love your job. You’re a good cop. Respected.”
“Without you, it means nothing. You’re mine, Leah. We’re two halves of a whole. Restraining orders and cops can’t keep us apart.”
Chin raised, tears pooled and spilled. Stall.
Buy time!
False promises of love and devotion danced on her tongue, readied for declaration when the truth stubbornly elbowed past. “We’re over, Philip. I’m not coming back to you.”
He traced his hand over her leg, rough calluses on smooth white skin. Skin prickling, she flinched and rolled her leg away. Gaze darkening, he clenched the blankets in his large hand. An onyx pinky ring marked with the letter L winked in the moonlight before he yanked the covering off the bed. She was helpless, wearing only gym shorts and a T-shirt. Cold air skimmed her bare legs. Goose bumps puckered.
“Philip, please—”
For a moment, he sat as still as a statue, his terrible beauty etched in calm repose. And then, like a rattler roiled, he struck, moving with lightning speed. He climbed on top of her, the rough fabric of his jeans scraping against her thrashing legs. He pressed the knife blade to her throat.
Their gazes locked as he smoothed the steel tip over her chest to her flat belly. She flinched. Braced.
“Philip, don’t. Please.”
This close, his eyes, red-rimmed as if he’d been crying, bore into her. “I’ll never let you go. You belong to me. I love you.” His body hummed with need. Need to own her. Need to possess her. Need to hear her words of love.
More tears spilled down the sides of her face. He controlled so much in this moment. Life or death rested solely with him. All she controlled was her words. The truth. If she died tonight, Philip would know her heart. “I don’t love you.”
He flinched, as if the statement bit like a rattler. “You’ve been brainwashed. Your mother and your friends filled you with lies. Poisoned you against me.”
“I don’t love you.” Defiance pricked as sharp as the knife’s tip. “You don’t own me.”
Pain deepened the lines of his face, even as his teeth bared into a snarl. He lowered his lips to her ear. Warm breath against her skin raked over her nerves.
“I love you,” he whispered. “I love you. Why can’t you understand that?”
Out of habit, not love, she raised her hand to his muscled arm, her touch gentle, as if soothing a beast. “Philip, this isn’t love.”
He burrowed his face into the crook of her neck. His hand fisted her blond hair. “It’s love. It is.”
“No, Philip.” A pathetic lie crept from the shadows. “You deserve better.”
A fist pounded on the apartment’s front door. “Ms. Carson! Ms. Carson! This is the police!”
The officer’s voice cut through the door and relief collided with tension. The cops!
He flinched. “Shh. It’s just us, the way it’s supposed to be.”
Her fingers hardened into a grip. “Help me! He’s going to kill me!”
Philip rose up, eyed her, disappointment mingling with anger. “Carson. You told the operator your name was Carson. You took your maiden name back.”
The anger-coated words stoked a flicker of guilt. His temper, abuse, was not her fault, but even after all the pain, he could so easily press the button that triggered guilt. Her weakness shamed her. “The cops are here. Go! Run while you can, Philip. Leave through the window. Just go! You don’t want to go to jail.”
He pressed the knife’s tip to the hollow of her neck. “That would suit you just fine.”
“I don’t want to see you in jail.” She prayed the directness in her gaze covered the lie. “You helped so many people as a cop. Let someone help you.”
“I don’t need a doctor. I only need you!”
“Ms. Carson!” the officer shouted. “Are you in there?”
Nothing would sway Philip. Nothing. “Yes!” she screamed.
Philip winced and pressed the tip of the knife to her neck. The tip scraped skin and drew blood.
How much longer before the cop got into her apartment? How long to slice skin? Seconds?
Blood flickered along the narrow column of her neck and dripped on her hair. “Please.”
“We’re meant to be together.” Desperation tinged the anger.
“Just leave. While you can.”
BOOK: I'll Never Let You Go (Morgans of Nashville)
2.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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