If she should die, p.1

If She Should Die, page 1

 

If She Should Die
 



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If She Should Die


  PRAISE FOR CARLENE THOMPSON

  BLACK FOR REMEMBRANCE

  “Loaded with mystery and suspense . . . Mary Higgins Clark fans take note.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “Gripped me from the first page and held on through its completely unexpected climax. Lock your doors, make sure there’s no one behind you, and pick up Black for Remembrance.”

  —William Katz, author of Double Wedding

  “Bizarre, terrifying . . . an inventive and forceful psychological thriller.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Thompson’s style is richly bleak, her sense of morality complex . . . Thompson is a mistress of the thriller parvenu.”

  —Fear

  SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE

  “This story will keep readers up well into the night.”

  —Huntress Reviews

  DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES

  “Don’t Close Your Eyes has all the gothic sensibilities of a Victoria Holt novel, combined with the riveting modern suspense of Sharyn McCrumb’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. Don’t close your eyes—and don’t miss this one.”

  —Meagan McKinney, author of In the Dark

  “An exciting romantic suspense novel that will thrill readers with the subplots of a who-done-it and a legendary resident ghost seen only by children. These themes cleverly tie back to the main story line centering on the relationships between Natalie and Nick, and Natalie and the killer. Carlene Thompson fools the audience into thinking they know the murderer early on in the book. The reviewer suggests finishing this terrific tale in one sitting to ascertain how accurate are the reader’s deductive skills in pinpointing the true villain.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH

  “[A] blood-chilling . . . tale of vengeance, madness, and murder.”

  —Romantic Times

  THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT

  “Thompson . . . has crafted a lively, entertaining read . . . skillfully ratchet[ing] up the tension with each successive chapter.”

  —The Charleston Daily Mail

  ST. MARTIN’S PAPERBACKS TITLES

  BY CARLENE THOMPSON

  Black for Remembrance

  Since You’ve Been Gone

  Don’t Close Your Eyes

  In the Event of My Death

  Tonight You’re Mine

  The Way You Look Tonight

  IF SHE

  SHOULD

  DIE

  CARLENE THOMPSON

  NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

  IF SHE SHOULD DIE

  Copyright © 2004 by Carlene Thompson.

  Excerpt from All Fall Down copyright © 1993 by Carlene Thompson.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

  ISBN: 0-312-98313-1

  Printed in the United States of America

  St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / January 2004

  St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To Pamela Gray Ahearn

  For years of guidance and encouragement

  Thanks to Russell Crump, Kelsey Thaler Brown,

  Jennifer Weis, and Keith Biggs..

  And thanks to Rhiannon, who sat on the back of my

  chair as I wrote every word.

  PROLOGUE

  Her name was Dara. Her mother, Eve, had claimed when she looked into the baby’s eyes two minutes after birth, she’d known this child was daring. The baby’s father had wanted to name her Angelina, but Eve knew the girl was no angel and Eve’s will had prevailed.

  Now Dara Prince sat on the rail of the rotting wooden bridge crossing Crescent Creek and looked up at the Black Moon. In one of her rare spells of patience she’d tried to explain to her “inherited” brother, Jeremy, that according to the teachings of Wicca, any time new moons occur during a single month, the second new moon is referred to as the Black Moon and is considered the strongest.

  In spite of his nodding and smiling, though, she didn’t think Jeremy had really understood. At seventeen, he had an IQ of around 70. People told her he had the emotional and intellectual development of a child of eleven or twelve, although the age assignment was arbitrary. In many ways, he was not like a regular kid of that age. Dara didn’t fully understand his handicap and she had little interest in it beyond the fact that he wasn’t normal.

  She sat on the old dirty bridge rail, sipping vodka from a small flask she’d brought along and desperately wishing her father had not become the legal guardian of Jeremy and his older sister, Christine, when their parents died in a small plane crash four years ago. Jeremy deeply embarrassed Dara. She always feared people would think he was her natural brother. At least he didn’t have Down Syndrome. Those people often had strange-shaped heads and mouths that hung open. He did possess the saving grace of extraordinary good looks, sort of like Brad Pitt, only taller and more muscular. Dara often thought of what a joke God must have had making Jeremy tall, handsome, nice, strong, and dumb. God could be such a jerk sometimes, she mused. A real funny guy. Only the jokes were all on humans.

  Jeremy’s older sister, Christine, wasn’t such a joke, though. She was twenty-one and although certainly not prettier than Dara, she was smarter, at least when it came to intellectual matters. People also admired her mature air, poise, and sense of responsibility. Teachers loved her. Dara thought with disgust that Christine had probably never made anything except an A+ in her entire school career.

  “Of course I never gave a damn about grades!” a slightly drunk Dara announced with aplomb to her small black cat, Rhiannon, who sat on her lap. “You get some teacher who likes you, they put down an ‘A’ instead of a ‘D’ on your grade sheet, and everybody loses their minds with joy. Hell, you could have copied someone’s paper and gotten the A.”

  She took another sip of vodka and leaned her head back and stared at the moon. While she loved studying her mirrored image in sunlight, night was her favorite time. Night was soft, caressing, beguiling, and magical. Tonight she’d enjoyed the quiet for a while, staring at the stars and the Black Moon and listening to the spring peepers. Rhiannon leaned against her, and she ran her hand over the black cat, feeling her back arch in response. Then Dara stood and retrieved her boom box. After all, the bridge over Crescent Creek was far enough from houses that she could play loud music without disturbing anyone. Not that she cared about disturbing people. She just didn’t want to get caught in her secret place at 11:00 P.M. when she was supposed to be studying for an English lit course she was about to flunk.

  Dara put in a compact disc and the song “Rhiannon,” by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, cut through the warm, quiet night. She’d chosen the newer version with the lilting piano introduction. It was Dara’s favorite song, with its haunting melody and lyrics, and she played it endlessly.

  The darkness and the warmth of vodka temporarily soothed her. She stood and swayed seductively beneath the moon, her hair flowing, her hips rotating, her eyes closed in pleasure. Unsupervised, Rhiannon ran up a tree, perched on a branch, covered her front paws with her tail, and watched the scene with huge golden eyes.

  Dara danced on in complete abandonment, running her hands through the silk of her hair and lifting her face to the moon. Nowhere else did she ha
ve such freedom. That’s why she loved this place. She believed the area was mystical, because it was once the home of ancient Indians. A peninsula of land lay on the other side of Crescent Creek. For over a century, parts of the land had been used for farming. Equipment was brought across the bridge until several years earlier, when both the land and the bridge had been abandoned after the land had become fallow and the bridge was deemed a danger not worth fixing. After this desertion, an archaeologist had managed to get a grant and with his team excavate a promising piece of the peninsula.

  She hated every history course she’d ever endured, but for some reason she’d never fathomed, Dara had become fascinated when the archaeologists discovered and excavated an ancient village built by the Indians known as the Mound Builders. She vividly remembered creeping over to the site every morning. No one had sent her home. Most of the workers were amused by the beautiful twelve-year-old girl enchanted by the dirty artifacts, always careful never to touch anything or walk where she shouldn’t, ever willing to fetch cups of water for sweating diggers, often offering misshapen chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies she’d baked.

  And then had come the most spectacular time of her life—the week they’d entered a burial mound and found eight skeletons, six adults and two children, all lying on their left sides facing west in accordance with their burial rituals. Dara had stayed at the site until after sundown, too mesmerized to care about her worried and work-obsessed father, who had no idea where she’d been spending her days.

  Afterward, when he’d discovered what she’d been up to, he’d banned her trips to the creek and the peninsula. The old bridge wasn’t safe, he said. Vagrants wandered the area. Copperhead snakes lived in the weeds. Groups of skunks carrying rabies roamed around. Dara had burst into uncontrollable giggles at the last objection, claiming she’d never heard of a gang skunk attack, and to her surprise, her usually doting father had almost slapped her.

  At the time, Dara was stunned that her father couldn’t take a joke like her mother. Later Dara thought he’d been unnerved by the discovery of the skeletons and frustrated that he couldn’t keep her away from the place that secretly frightened him. But even now nothing frightened Dara except the thought of getting old and losing her looks, and that was not an immediate concern. She was only nineteen. Middle age seemed a century away.

  The song “Rhiannon” ended and on her way back to the CD player to replay it, Dara heard a noise. She stiffened. Several times Jeremy had followed her out here at night. She never spoke sharply to him. She hated to admit it, but one look at his defenseless face and adoring eyes and she couldn’t force herself to be mean. She had told him of snakes and witches and other horrors she’d hoped would scare him off, though. They hadn’t. He always wanted her to show him where the ancient Indians had lived. He was almost as fascinated by the place as she. Worst of all, she couldn’t complain about him trailing along without giving away her own trips to the creek after she’d convinced her father she’d abandoned them. Miraculously, Jeremy had kept the secret about her continued visits.

  She looked up at Rhiannon. The cat’s golden eyes moved toward the creek and Dara heard another sound. Water splashed as a small animal—a muskrat or a mink—jumped into the water. She was disturbing the woodland life, she thought. Didn’t the creatures realize she was one of them—wild, native, full of animal energy trapped in human form? She smiled. She was getting downright poetic like her “almost” sister, Christine. But Christine was not moved by this place. She didn’t like it. Christine was an outsider who didn’t belong here like she did.

  Except for tonight. Dara knew she’d only heard an animal. Still, she felt uneasy. Her breath quickened. Every sense seemed to snap to life, quivering with primal instincts of danger and the need for preservation. She shut off the CD player and moved away from the bridge, heading for the tree where Rhiannon sat tensed on a branch.

  Dara stooped and from a flat, dry rock picked up a heavy glass sphere tucked in a burgundy velvet bag. It had belonged to her mother, Eve, when she’d dabbled in witchcraft “just for fun,” she’d told Dara. When she was young, Dara had been half-afraid of the witchcraft, but when her mother died, she’d insisted on having the sphere, an actual crystal ball the size of a small cantaloupe. Dara loved to hold it up to the sun and the moon to see watercolor-tinted light flash through the facets. Sometimes Dara kept the sphere near just for luck, or to remind her of her mother. Right now, though, she was thinking of it more as a weapon than an object of divination. But there was nothing to fear. Or was there?

  Apprehension cold as a dead finger touched Dara’s neck. She’d felt so anxious lately. An intense fear had overtaken her, a fear she’d never felt in her life. And she’d brought it on herself, she thought. She’d been playing a risky game, a game that had gotten dangerously out of hand. She’d pushed things too far. She deeply regretted it, but she didn’t know how to fix her situation.

  Unless she left this town, she thought. After all, since last week nothing held her to the place anymore except her father, whom she’d never forgiven for remarrying a much younger woman so soon after his first wife’s death. Or for taking in Christine and Jeremy. But strong as Dara’s attachment to him was, she couldn’t turn to him now. He would be infuriated. He would be disappointed in her. Humiliated. He would never understand.

  He would probably hate her, and that she couldn’t bear.

  Yes, she should leave, she told herself firmly. She’d made tentative plans the last few days, thinking of where she might go, withdrawing $10,000 from her bank account full of money she’d accumulated from generous lifelong Christmas and birthday gifts. Still, she’d hesitated. Leaving the place she’d always known was a big step. Considering the bad vibes she’d been getting lately, though, she felt like leaving tonight. She felt like she needed to leave tonight.

  But she was frightened. Frightened to stay, frightened to leave. God, what a quandary. She sat down on the flat rock and let hot pent-up tears slide down her cheeks.

  The breeze picked up, heavy with rain. Late March always brought rain. Every few years so much rain came that Crescent Creek flooded and rushed, as if exultant with its temporary strength, into the swollen Ohio River. This felt like one of those years. A flood would bring excitement to this calm West Virginia town, Dara thought, but the last thing she craved was more excitement.

  From her perch on the tree branch, Rhiannon growled low in her throat. Dara looked up in surprise. Rhiannon was an amazingly quiet feline, meowing softly only two or three times a week, seldom purring, even more rarely growling or hissing.

  Dara glanced around. Someone stood on the narrow, sloping path leading down to the bridge, someone whose stiff form was only nebulously limned by star- and moonlight.

  “Jeremy?” Dara called shrilly, abruptly rigid with unreasoning panic. God, she was really spooked tonight, she thought, in spite of the usually calming vodka. But aside from Jeremy, her only visitor in this place was Streak Archer, an eccentric friend of her father who jogged at night and always called out to her before approaching.

  “Streak?” she asked anyway. Streak did not answer.

  “Christine?” Dara tried again, her voice cracking. Christine didn’t come here, but maybe Jeremy had told the secret and Christine was playing watchdog tonight because Dara’s father and stepmother were out for the evening. The figure was tall, and at five-ten, Christine seemed like an Amazon to petite Dara. Yes, it must be Christine, who’d tracked her down and come to drag her home.

  The figure stood perfectly still, its face lost in shadows. Then a voice rang out: “Dara, I couldn’t see you hiding under that tree!”

  Dara didn’t know whether to be frightened by the person’s presence or relieved by the congenial tone of voice. She decided to act nonchalant. “I wasn’t hiding. I was just sitting here enjoying the night. But a storm’s coming. Feel that wind!”

  No answer. Dara’s eyes narrowed. The visitor’s body bore an odd tension. The voice wasn’t norma
l, either. Too cheery. Strained. Dara grew wary. Something was wrong. “It’s time for me to go home, though. I’ll walk back with you!” she called casually, her perspiring hands picking up the crystal sphere. Once more to Dara it had become not a memento but a weapon and somehow an object of spiritual protection because it had belonged to her mother. Dara stood and took a few steps forward, wind whipping her hair across her face, her fingers trembling, wondering if she was really in danger or just crazy from the influence of the second new moon of the month.

  Rhiannon’s golden eyes remained fixed on the visitor. Slowly the cat stood up on the branch. Her eyes turned to slits, her back arched, her tail bushed, her ears flattened. She hissed again and again.

  Twenty minutes later, just as raindrops were beginning to splash into the already swollen waters of Crescent Creek, Rhiannon daintily walked along the railing of the bridge. Her ears remained flattened. The shining black hair along her backbone stood up. And she left a path of bloody paw prints behind her as the boom box played loudly, sending the haunting sounds of “Rhiannon” into the empty darkness and up to the Black Moon.

  CHAPTER 1

  Three Years Later

  Christine Ireland struggled to clasp the silver-and-garnet line bracelet around the customer’s plump wrist extended to her. She was successful, and blood vessels in the woman’s hand immediately distended. “Wilma, this bracelet is lovely, but it’s only seven inches long. I believe you might need an eight.”

  Wilma Archer burst into jolly laughter. “Oh, Christine, didn’t I say this is for my granddaughter’s high school graduation in two months? Good heavens, if I wore this for a day I’d be a candidate for amputation.”

  Christine breathed easier and smiled. So many women who came into Prince Jewelry tried to force wrists and fingers into jewelry that was far too small for them, then became insulted when a clerk suggested a larger size. Christine had known Wilma Archer for years, though. The woman didn’t have a vain bone in her body.

 
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