From MyraH on Amazon
“Another thrilling and exciting book! I never want the books to end…”
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“Full of the usual twists, turns and thrills that I have come to love from this author, this book doesn’t disappoint.”
From Blaue1 on Apple Books
“This is an exciting thriller love story filed with interesting characters… This book is a wonderful escape from the difficulties of life.”
Truth is in the Darkness (A Paynes Creek thriller)
Truth is in the Darkness - Read Chapter One
Twelve Years Ago
This is a really bad idea.
Climbing down the trellis outside my bedroom window, I could hear Grammy’s voice in the back of my mind prophesizing “Nothing good happens after midnight.” That was always her answer when my cousin and I whined about our midnight curfew.
But I was seventeen, and Coop had planned the most perfect night for us. And I wasn’t at Grammy’s house. She would never know that I had snuck out. My mother had passed out on the couch hours ago, so I was pretty certain she’d never notice my absence. Nor would she care.
With eyes closed tightly, I started my Toyota Corolla, praying to the gods that I was right about my mother being dead to the world and the sound wouldn’t wake her. She had come home from her date around ten. I could tell by the way she told me she loved me that she’d been drinking, which infuriated me since she had been driving my car and putting her life at risk. She hugged me and nearly teared up when she said how much she was going to miss me when I went off to college the following year.
That was a lie. My mother was so wrapped up in trying to recapture her lost youth, going out night after night, that me leaving would feed right into her master plan. She wasn’t going to miss me—she was looking forward to the day I was no longer in the house. And so was I. I was already living at Grammy’s half of the time anyway.
I glanced back at the house as I pulled away, and was satisfied to see that no lights had been turned on when I left. She hadn’t woken.
There was something peaceful about driving through Paynes Creek late at night. Very few cars were on the road. Houses and businesses were dark. Even my radio seemed too loud for the silence, so I turned down the volume.
As I neared the only twenty-four-hour gas station in our quaint little town, I considered stopping in—I did need gas, thanks to Linda. But I decided I didn’t want to keep Coop waiting. So I made a mental note to fuel up later, then took a right, heading for the meeting spot that Coop and I called our own. We had discovered that the area beside the barn on Old Mr. Kuster’s land was nice and private, the perfect place to hang out, stargaze, and talk about our hopes and dreams for the future.
Coop had wanted to pick me up so that I wouldn’t be driving alone, but I’d insisted that I meet him since he’d be coming from the opposite direction. Besides, I needed the mental prep time.
I spotted Coop’s old pickup truck parked just outside the gate at the entrance to the Kuster farm. I quickly came to a stop, turned off the car, and cut my lights. In the silence, my breathing picked up, and my hands perspired so badly I had to rub them against my jeans.
Why was I so nervous? I wasn’t the least bit uncertain about taking this next step with Coop. He and I had talked about it at length. We loved each other. We planned to get married eventually. We’d probably wait until after college, of course—that would be the smart thing—but we already knew we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. And we weren’t rushing things; we’d waited a whole year.
We’d even researched and decided what kind of birth control we would use. That had proven to be an easy decision once my dermatologist told me the pill might help with my acne problem. I jumped at the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
So why was I sitting in my car, rubbing my palms against my jeans?
With one last deep, cleansing breath, I opened the car door—cringing when the overhead light came on—and got out. I straightened my sweater and walked toward the gate. Not the side with the lock, but the other side, where it was safer to climb over.
The air on this mid-May night was warm. We’d said our final goodbyes to winter after the late-spring snow shower two weeks ago. Scattered thunderstorms over the past week had left the ground damp and soft, but they’d also brought a nice warming trend.
I eased myself over the fence and started for the barn where Mr. Kuster stored his tractors and farm equipment. As I came closer, I saw a glowing light coming from the other side of the building. I rounded the corner.
Several candles glowed inside glass jars around a quilt spread on the grass beneath a weeping willow. Coop, who was just lighting the last candle, looked up in my direction. His skin glowed in the candlelight, the flames highlighting the blond streaking through his otherwise sandy hair. And there was no mistaking the nervous look on his face.
He straightened and wiped his hands on his pants. I gave him a knowing smile.
We both took a few steps closer to each other, and when he wrapped his arms around me, all of my nervous energy simply fell away.
The night was perfect.
I lay there in Coop’s arms, a blanket covering us. He lazily ran his fingers up and down my right arm. Though the air was warm, I shivered and snuggled in closer to him.
Overhead, stars twinkled in the clear sky. Out here in the country, where there were no lights to compete with the moon and the stars, the view nearly took my breath away.
And I was with the one person I loved more than any other.
“Are you happy?” he asked.
“Very,” I said in a small voice. “You?”
I leaned up on my elbow and stared down at the humor in his eyes, smiling as I did. “Are you sorry we didn’t wait longer?”
His brows pointed inward as he studied my face. “No,” he said simply. “Are you?”
I gave my head a shake, keeping my eyes on his. “I love you, Cooper Adams.”
He lifted his head and kissed me softly. “I love you too, Lily Thomas. You’re the love of my life.”
I glanced around at the candles. “I can’t believe you did all this.”
“Why not? I wanted this to be special for you.”
I smiled. “It was.”
He slipped a hand to the back of my neck, guided my face to his, and kissed me again. “For me too,” he whispered.
I let my head rest against his chest and drew figure eights on his skin. “I wish I didn’t have to go back to my mother’s house. As soon as I’m eighteen, I’m going to live at Grammy’s when I’m not at school.”
“Won’t be long now,” he said. “You’ll be eighteen next month. And we’ll both be at UK in the fall. We just have to get through the summer.”
My body tensed.
“What is it?” he asked. He touched my cheek, forcing me to look at him.
I tried to pull away, but he kept a forefinger on my cheek, directing me to look at him.
“I know you better than anyone, and I know when something’s wrong.”
I looked down for a couple of beats, then back up. “I was accepted to the art school in New York.”
Coop didn’t move for a moment. Said nothing. Then he dropped his hand from my face.
“Say something,” I pleaded.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I just found out today. I was going to tell you, but I didn’t want to ruin tonight. Are you mad?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Mad?” He sat up, bringing me with him. He pulled the blanket around me, leaving him partially exposed, then he gathered me in his lap. “Of course not. You’ve got more talent in your pinky finger than I do in my whole body. As soon as you applied, I knew you’d be accepted. And it’s your dream school. I’m just…” He paused, searching for words. “I’m going to miss you.”
He reached over and grabbed his shirt, then pulled it over his head.
“Coop,” I said.
“It’s getting late.”
“Look at me.”
He stopped adjusting his shirt and met my gaze.
“I know you’re disappointed,” I said. “I haven’t even decided if I’m going. I probably won’t.”
“Of course you’re going. Why would you apply to your dream school if you hadn’t planned on going when you got accepted?”
I shrugged. “I thought it was a long shot.” My voice cracked, and a tear slipped down my cheek. I tried to hide my emotions by grabbing my clothes and getting dressed.
When we were both standing, the flicker of candlelight reflecting in our eyes, Coop brought me closer and wrapped his arms around me. “We’ll be fine. I just need some time to get used to the idea of us being apart.”
“If I go, we’ll still see each other on breaks. I’ll come home some weekends. And you’ll come see me.”
He kissed the top of my head. “Of course. We’ll make it work.”
I leaned my forehead against his chest. “I’m sorry.”
“We’d better get going. I don’t want either of us to get caught trespassing.” Coop blew out the candles, then turned back to me. “I’ll come back for the candle jars after I walk you to your car. Give them a minute to cool down.”
With Coop’s arm wrapped around my shoulders, we walked back to the gate. There was no denying that my news had darkened Coop’s mood. I should have waited to tell him.
At my car, I made one last attempt to make sure the night ended on a good note. I raised myself up on my tiptoes and kissed him. “I love you,” I said. “I’m not going to make a decision without talking to you. And I won’t go if I think it will ruin things between us.”
He kissed me again. “Nothing is going to ruin what we have. And we have time to think about it.”
We didn’t, and he knew it. I would have to make a decision in the next week.
“Be careful getting home and back inside.”
“I will. Last thing I need is Linda waking up and acting like a mom.” It was meant as a joke, but even I heard the coldness in my voice when I mentioned my mother.
Coop gave me one last kiss on the top of my head, then opened my car door and helped me inside. “I love you,” he said.
I didn’t realize how much I would cling to those three words until ten minutes later, when everything good in my life was taken from me.
Truth is in the Darkness - Read Chapter Two
It had been a perfect night. Right up until I ruined it with my stupid news about art school. Why couldn’t I have just waited to tell him? Cooper Adams was the love of my life, and he had done everything right tonight.
And I had done everything wrong.
I was so distracted, I forgot how dangerously low on gas I was until the gas tank icon started glowing orange on my dashboard.
“Shit!” I would have to stop for gas before I went home, or I wouldn’t make it back out tomorrow.
I pulled into the brightly lit station. There were two other vehicles there—an older-model yellow Camaro at the pump diagonal from me, and a dark sedan parked beside the building near the bathrooms. A guy with long, stringy hair and a tattoo covering his entire right arm was fueling up the Camaro. And despite the many warnings, he was smoking a cigarette as he pumped the gas.
Stupid, I thought. He was going to get us all blown up.
As I filled my tank, I watched for Coop’s vehicle. He would have to pass by the gas station on his way home, but he probably hadn’t finished gathering the candles yet.
A man climbed out of the dark sedan. He wore a black dress shirt and black pants, and his dark hair was slicked back like a member of the Italian mafia—or at least, like they looked in the movies. When he glanced my way, I realized I was staring. Remembering my manners, I averted my gaze and watched the numbers on the gas pump climb.
After I’d put twenty dollars of gas in my car, I locked the doors and went inside to pay. The lights inside the mini-mart were bright and fluorescent, and I was sure I probably looked like death in their glare. I rubbed my fingers under my eyes to wipe away any mascara that had stained the skin there.
The clerk, a woman who was probably in her mid-thirties, smiled at me. She looked vaguely familiar—probably I’d seen her here before. Her dirty-blond hair was cut in a bob and straightened. “Hi, honey,” she said. “You’re out awfully late.” As she spoke, she was watching the mob-looking man, who was filling a large cup with ice and Coke.
“Yes, ma’am. On my way home now.”
“What pump you at?” she asked.
I glanced outside at my car, now the only car at a pump, then back at her. Only she wasn’t looking at me. She was still watching Mr. Mob Boss. “Number three?” I said.
Her eyes found mine again, and she forced a smile. The way she and Mr. Mob Boss kept trading looks was making me uncomfortable, though I had no idea why.
I set a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. “That should cover it.”
I exited, but instead of going straight to my car, I made a detour to the bathroom, praying there was toilet paper inside. I squatted over the toilet, giving my legs a burning workout as I peed. When I was done, I washed my hands and stared into the funhouse mirror. It was probably for the best that there wasn’t a normal mirror. I would shower as soon as I got home anyway.
A knock sounded on the bathroom door.
I straightened. “Be right out,” I yelled.
There were no paper towels, so I shook my hands, spraying water onto the concrete floor. Then, using my shirt to cover my clean hand, I unlocked the door. Just as I was pulling the door open, someone pushed it hard into me, knocking me backwards. I yelped in surprise.
A dark body rushed in, and just as I was about to scream, Mr. Mob Boss placed a hand over my mouth. His other arm circled around my body and held me tight.
“Aren’t you everything that was promised.”
I managed a muffled scream as he pushed me back into the wall.
“Be a good little girl,” he said. “This will go much smoother for you if you obey.”
He released my mouth, and I screamed, despite his warning. But then I felt a pinch to my arm and realized he had stuck me with a syringe. Almost instantly, my body broke out into a sweat, and I lost the strength to fight back.
I opened my mouth to yell, but this time only a low groan escaped. He went in and out of focus, but I tried to memorize his facial features—the hard lines of his jaw, the thin scar across his chin, the fullness of his lips. His dark brown eyes were nearly black, and they seemed to light up as my own eyes became lazier and lazier.
He pushed me to arm’s length. I swayed on my feet, but he held me firm. I watched as he took in the sight of my body, his gaze moving from my face and slowly down to my feet. I was wearing a fitted shirt that scooped low in the front, a light sweater, and tight jeans. I had wanted to look good for Coop, so I’d worn his favorite color—green, because it matched my eyes. I almost laughed at the ridiculous thought. Clearly, whatever this man had given me was taking effect.
“You’ll do nicely,” he said. His lips peeled back, revealing perfectly straight teeth. His two front teeth were capped, or possibly implants. “I have just the client in mind for you. But maybe I’ll keep you for myself for a little test drive first.” He let one of his hands slide down my side. He stopped around my rib cage and allowed a thumb to graze one of my breasts.
I flinched at the touch and tried to pull away, but it was no use. My mind was clear, but my body refused to obey my urgent commands to kick, bite, fight, or scream.
His smile vanished, and a look of anger burned in his eyes. “You’ll need a little training first. You’re certainly undisciplined. But after that? You’ll fetch top dollar.”
As the drug spread through my bloodstream, I relaxed against him, and his grip around me also relaxed. “That’s my good girl,” he said, smoothing my hair behind me.
When had I become his girl? I lifted a hand to push at his chest, but there was no strength within me. This man was going to rape me, and I was powerless to stop him.
“Now, we’re going to go for a little ride.” He ran a thumb over my lips. “And if you’re a good girl, there will be a reward for you when we get where we’re going.”