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Excerpt for FINAL SCREAM

Kensington; Reprint edition
November 2017, ISBN: 1420144197

Genre: Romantic Suspense

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Prologue
Prosperity, Oregon
1977

I imagined her death.

Not a quick, easy giving up of the ghost, but a slow, torturous passing from this world to the next where, I was certain, she'd meet Lucifer at hell's gate. Which was perfect and, I figured, long overdue.

A felt a little thrill. A tingle of anticipation as I double checked the locks of the old mill, then saw that the thin, nearly invisible filament that I had stretched between the detonation device and the pile of oily rags near the only route of escape, the doorway from the parking lot, the one she'd use to enter.

Yes, yes, yes!
I envisioned her walking through the cobwebs that draped over the doorway and into this gargantuan room, the heart of the hundred-year-old behemoth of a building that was in a sorry state of decay. Slated for a renovation that would never come.

So intent on her purpose, to meet a lover who would never show, she wouldn't notice that overhead, the metal roof gaped, creaking in the hot summer wind. Nor would she see the owl in the rafters as he flapped his wings before taking flight. She'd ignore the scent of dust and the old, unmistakable odor of sweat from a century of men who had toiled here.

Blind as she was to everything except herself, she'd miss the fact that the entire building had been wired to go up in the worst conflagration this sorry little town had ever seen.

Perfect.

I licked my lips in anticipation; tasted the salt from sweat pouring off my skin. Fingered the padlock in my jacket pocket; the one I'd removed from the back exit. Burn, you sorry little bitch, I thought and smiled to myself at how clever I was and how no one would ever suspect me. I'd already been pegged, type-cast by this pathetic, small-minded community as one who didn't have the brains or wherewithal for something as complicated as murder.

Little did they know.

Just wait, I thought and trembled in eager anticipation.

In my mind's eye, I witnessed her slip through the doorway in expensive shoes–-probably those high-heeled slip ons she liked as they showed off the perfect curve of her calves and gave her a few extra inches from which she could look down her straight nose. Then she would make her way toward the back of the building to a private room that had once been a windowless office.

I nearly fumbled with the detonator as I considered how she'd first understand what was about to happen.

She might catch a whiff of smoke in the stale air, but she'd think it was only the strike of a match as a cigarette was lit; that her lover had gotten to their tryst a few minutes before she had.

That would please her.

She loved to make an entrance.

The goddamned whore!
She was so damned predictable.

She'd call out and wait, hoping to hear him respond and when he didn't she wouldn't worry, just think he was playing a seductive game of hide-and-seek as he lurked in the shadows. Waiting for her. Lusting after her. His cock rock hard with need.

She'd smile seductively. Lift a dark, inquisitive eyebrow. Unbutton her blouse to show off her cleavage on this hot, breathless night and wind her long hair into a knot that she'd hold over her head, pushing those beautiful breasts forward. Oh, she understood how to play the game. How well I knew.

My hands were slippery in my gloves as I fantasized about how she, in that low, throaty voice, would call out to him again, saying something naughty. Dirty. Maybe she'd take off a high heel and playfully let it dangle from her fingers.

But the smell of smoke would be stronger by then and she'd start to wonder, perhaps feel that first little niggle of fear slide down her spine.

I smiled at that thought, tamped down the rage that burned through me at the thought of her seductive games. Jesus, I hoped she'd experience real, gut wrenching, piss-your-pants terror tonight.

That's what it was all about.

That, and getting rid of her.

Forever.

In my vision, I saw her, dark hair intentionally mussed. Disturbed, even a little frightened, she'd yell his name more loudly. Anxiously. She would be getting angry. Worried. She'd warn him that she was in no mood for jokes and this wasn't funny anyway. She'd even turn petulantly, offering him a view of her rounded little ass.

Because she knew it was flawless and oh, so inviting.

But, by that time it would be too late.

She'd take one step toward the door and . . .

BAM!
The gunpowder would explode.

She'd be thrown off her feet.

She'd land with a bone-rattling smack onto the hard wood floor.

Her head would crack on the oily planks.

The building would shudder.

A ball of fire would spew sparks and flames to the ceiling.

Tinder-dry walls would ignite, fire climbing up to the rafters, sparks raining down, catching in her hair, burning her clothes, sizzling against her skin.

And she'd scream . . . oh, how she'd scream.

I quivered with the thrill of my fantasy, so close at hand.

Raw panic would surge through her. She'd be frantic. Realize that she was about to die in a horrible oven from which there would be no escape.

I felt another shiver of exhilaration zing through my blood and the sound of Jim Morrison's voice echoed through my head as the vision became more distinct. More real.

"Try to set the night on fi---re," I whispered, as I, though the projector of my mind, watched what was to come.

The old timbers of this mill would quake, burn hot, groan eerily and tumble down, breaking into hundreds of flaming chunks as the fiery walls began to collapse and the roof give way.

Dazed, blinded by smoke, she'd feel horrifying fear. She'd cough and gasp. Crying, begging for someone to save her, she'd crawl on bloodied knees to the back door–-her only hope of escape. But it would be shut forever. The padlock that I'd unlocked earlier for my escape, firmly back in place.

Black smoke would fill her lungs. She'd cough. Gag. Scream. Pound on the old door.

But no one would hear her.

No one would come.

The smoke and heat would be terrifying.

And she would be trapped. That was the best part. Those last, brutal minutes of her life. Would she wail and keen? Pray wildly to a deaf god? See her life flash behind her eyes and regret all her sins?
In a matter of seconds, the entire building would be engulfed in intense, hellish flames.

Her lungs would feel as if they were being seared.

Flames would lick her bare flesh.

Pain would tear through every inch of her.

Her skin would begin to peel from her body.

And she'd know, in those last desperate moments, that she'd been condemned to hell.

But she wouldn't know who had done this to her.

Nor would she know why.

Not that it mattered.

Because I would know.

Finally, she would have gotten what she'd deserved.

Excited, barely able to think beyond what was about to happen, I lingering in the darkened building, near the back wall of the large room that had been the receiving area. Waiting. Heart pounding. Feeling sweat run down my back.

Where was she?
I glanced at my watch, then through the dirty windows where I saw the streetlights of town giving off a dull blue light. Few cars passed this way.

She was already five minutes late.

"Come on, come on," I whispered.

Relax. She's never on time. You know that.

My nerves were jumping. What if something went wrong? What if she didn't show up?
Don't worry. She'll be here . . . don't panic . . . do NOT panic.

Slowly, I let out my breath. Rested my head against the wall. Closed my eyes for what seemed an eternity. Then I checked my watch again. Nearly ten minutes had passed since the meeting time. Shit! What if she'd decided to let him wait? What if they'd had a fight? What if she'd called him to confirm and realized that she'd been set up? What if she'd called the police . . . no, no, she wouldn't. There was no reason. And yet my pulse was jumping erratically.

My fists clenched. She had to come here tonight.

She had to!
All this planning couldn't be just a waste of time.

She had to die.

Tonight.

Five more agonizing minutes passed and she was now fifteen minutes late.

Son of a bitch, son of a goddamned bitch! I pounded my gloved fist against the wall. I had to leave soon. Before anyone noticed the truck parked in an alley a few blocks north.

This was all a waste of time, a big pain in the ass!
Headlights flashed against the windows, the sound of a car's engine cut through the night.

Finally.

All my muscles racheted up a notch. I glanced through the window again, but only caught a glimpse of a dark vehicle as it flew into the parking lot.

Tires crunched on the sparse gravel.

She was here!
It was now or never.

Fingers shaking, the gloves hampering me, I set the timer . . . I had three minutes to get away from the building and into the truck. It would take me two minutes to sprint to the alley and that was if I ran fast and didn't encounter any problems. I should leave right now; but I couldn't. Not quite yet. I was too fascinated by what was to come.

I heard footsteps and then a hesitation at the doorway.

Silence . . . as if she sensed something was wrong.

I held my breath. Told myself that she was just pausing to primp–to touch up her lipstick or finger comb her hair, do a little something to ensure that she looked perfect.

Christ what a slut!
I was nearly jumping out of my skin.

Get the hell in here!
But the seconds kept ticking down. Thirty gone. Now thirty-five.

Come on. Come on, you bitch. Don't make me drag you!
I held my breath and waited in the darkness. The timer was a simple device; I couldn't stop it. Once it was set, it would count off the remaining seconds then detonate. There was no fail safe on the damned thing.

I had to leave. Now.

But I had to be sure. Certain she would die.

For God's sake, come the hell in!
Still the door from the parking lot didn't creak open.

You should have waited to set the timer until she entered. To make sure that she got into this place and allow yourself enough time to get out. Now you're trapped!
Sweat was running in my eyes. Adrenaline shooting through my blood. I'd have to do something. And fast.

My heart was pumping wildly, pounding in my ears.

I eased my way through the dark hallway to the back door.

Come on, you bitch! Get inside!
Finally the footsteps resumed.

I smiled. All was not lost after all.

The lock on the door rattled.

I slipped out the hallway to the back exit. A rush of dry summer wind hit me full in the face.

The footsteps behind me were louder.

Heavy.

Too heavy.

Damn!
Panic rifled through me.

"Are you here?" a deep male voice called, echoing through the empty building.

A man?
Son of a bitch!
It wasn't her.

Disappointment ripped through me.

All of my planning for nothing.

"Hey! Where are you?" A pause, then a knowing little snigger and the sound of a lighter clicking as he lit a cigarette. "So you want to play games, huh? Okay by me. Come out, come out, wherever you are."
I recognized the voice. Thought I'd be sick at the thought that I was going to kill him. But it was too late. I couldn't wait. I'd already lost a full minute. I had to leave now or I'd be caught. Detained. Questioned by the police.

I could yell and warn him. Risk being exposed.

But then I'd lose my next chance to kill her.

No way.

I slipped the padlock from my pocket, snapped it through the metal brackets and turned the dial. I gave the lock a tug. It didn't release.

And then I ran.