Illusions of Death, page 1
Table of Contents
ILLUSIONS OF DEATH
ILLUSIONS OF DEATH
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
ILLUSIONS OF DEATH
Cover Design by Ramona Lockwood
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Deborah Gilbert
Your belief in me launched me
along the road of this
incredible writing journey.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart.
He placed the last of the wet dirt on top of the second grave. Smoothed it with the back of the shovel. Reached for the collection of branches and rocks and leaves that he’d gathered before he began digging. He tossed them haphazardly over his handiwork and stepped back to survey the ground. Perfect. Anyone venturing off the Appalachian Trail this far would have no idea what rested beneath the soil.
If only people knew how much he’d accomplished in his killing time.
He took pride in his handiwork. Years of honing his skill had made him a master of death. He’d started years ago in his teens picking up hitchhikers. Perfecting the art of torture. Perfecting his knife skills. Dismembering the specimens. Learning how to dispose of body parts.
Other hunts followed. Sometimes a single specimen. Sometimes a group. He’d especially enjoyed seeing Atlanta frantic during his series of child abductions and murders. He thought it pure genius to focus on the little ones of public servants. He’d taken the kids of a fireman. A city council member. The school superintendent’s daughter. A cop’s twins. And the piece de resistance? The mayor’s grandson.
His latest specimen gathering consisted of high-end prostitutes. The Chattahoochee National Forest had provided cover for this most recent hunt. Its miles of wilderness proved the ideal disposal area. He’d witnessed the arrival of spring as the area greened up. Watched it blossom into its summer loveliness. Seen the explosion of fall colors come vividly to life as he buried his precious specimens.
But he was at the end of this cycle of murders. He refused to tramp through isolated areas during winter snow. Last night’s kill would be the final in this series.
He chuckled to himself. Plus, the unexpected bonus.
The lone hiker appeared just before dusk settled. He’d already made camp. Set up his tent. The specimen, bound and gagged, waited for him inside. The Rohypnol’s effects had faded. She would know everything that happened from this point on.
Then the kid arrived, sporting a backpack almost bigger than he was. Made himself at home. Admitted he was lost.
They chatted over bottled water and protein bars. The teen spilled that he was traipsing around during Thanksgiving break in hopes of having some majestic, eye-opening experience that would be good enough to write about in his upcoming college admission essay. Everyone these days had come from another country and had to learn English, only to land at the top of their graduating class. Or they’d come from divorced parents and had to live out of a car when the custodial parent was laid off and couldn’t find work. Or they volunteered from everything to food banks to homeless shelters and were homecoming queen and Most Likely To Succeed.
All his classmates had a story to write about. Except for him. He came from a middle class family that had never struggled. The boy had decent grades. Had made National Honor Society. Was vice president of the chess club. That was his undistinguished resume. So he was looking for something life-changing that he could write about.
He’d certainly experienced it. Of course, the kid changed from the living into the dead. Over many hours. As had the whore.
At least the kid wouldn’t be put through the agony of writing that essay. Or being rejected by his top choices and settling for community college and a mundane life.
He returned to the campsite as the rain slacked off to a drizzle. Packed up. He pulled his keys from his pocket. Noticed the rain had stopped. The sky lightened.
And then he saw it. A rainbow in the sky.
Of course. That was it.
Just as God placed the rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that He would never flood the earth again, He’d generously gifted him with a new idea.
His next mission would be served as The Rainbow Killer.
Thoughts raced in his head as he planned a new series of murders to commit. The specimens would share nothing in common, making him impossible to catch. But every murder would end in spectacular colors. In hues of the rainbow.
Confidence pulsated through him. This could be his claim to fame. A lasting legacy.
He couldn’t wait to begin.
Karlyn Campbell entered her publisher’s New York office building in high spirits. She’d finished her sixth Matt Collins book and considered it the best of the series. She couldn’t wait to hand the flash drive to her agent.
On top of that, she’d come up with a terrific idea for
All while wondering when Mario would turn up.
He hadn’t come home last night—or the past two nights. She’d forgiven one slip-up six months after their honeymoon. Then brushed aside another. And another. But she refused to turn a blind eye anymore. If Mario couldn’t keep it zipped up, the marriage was over. She already carried them financially and couldn’t keep doing it alone emotionally. At least she could always find escape in her writing. Killing people on the page released real-life demons.
Karlyn pressed the button for twelve and The Lindon Agency. She remembered her first ride up over ten years ago, thrilled that she’d connected with an agent who believed she had talent. Over time, Alicia Lindon had grown into a close friend as well as her representative in the publishing world. She’d pushed Karlyn after three years from romance into romantic suspense, wanting her client to stretch her creative muscle.
The move paid off. Her novels regularly debuted in top ten lists. The increase in sales gave Karlyn the boost she needed to try her hand at straight suspense—thus the birth of Matt Collins and his sidekicks. Part Bond, part Bourne—and all charm—Matt was bright, hot as hell, and walked on the wild side more often than not. He bent the law at times, but he was loyal, funny, and oozed charisma.
And he always got the bad guy.
The elevator chimed. Karlyn stepped out and headed through the frosted double doors.
“Hi, Karlyn.” Her agent’s long-time assistant Candi greeted her with a bright smile. “Can I get you anything before you head in?”
She held up her Starbucks cup. “I made a vanilla latte run on my way over.”
Candi came around the desk. “Please tell me you’ve finished up the next Matt.”
Karlyn grinned and slipped the flash drive from her purse, handing it to Candi. “Waiting for your approval.”
She had actually given Candi the first Matt manuscript before she let Alicia read it. She was unsure trying something that new, and Candi had been a fan from the beginning of her career. Twenty pages into it, the assistant called and declared Matt a winner.
“I’ll start printing Alicia a copy.”
“And maybe read a few pages as they come off the printer?” Karlyn teased.
Candi shrugged. “What can I say? Matt’s fast with a gun and even faster with a smooth line. He’s my fantasy man, and I’m all about the fantasy.”
“Hope you enjoy. I’m off to Alicia’s office.”
She walked down the corridor, waving at agents as she passed their offices. Karlyn had seen The Lindon Agency grow in the decade she’d been a client and was happy to be a part of its success.
She tapped lightly on Alicia’s open door. Her friend was on the phone but motioned her in.
“Thanks, Frank. I’ll Fed Ex the contracts to you. Let’s do lunch Thursday. Ciao.”
Alicia hung up and crossed to wrap Karlyn in a bear hug. Though she clocked in at 5’7” today with her three-inch heels, Karlyn still felt dwarfed by her agent’s six feet.
“How are you, darling? Your text said that Matt’s finished. That’s terrific.”
Alicia led them to her sofa and plopped, slipping her stilettos off. She cocked her head, studying Karlyn.
“Your smile tells me that you have another idea already.”
Karlyn nodded and briefly outlined what she’d knocked out this morning.
“Sounds fantastic. I’m glad it’s not Matt again. I love that sexy man and what he’s done for both our bank accounts. But it’s better to dole him out in small portions. We have to make the public crave more.”
“Candi’s printing out the manuscript now.”
“I can’t wait to curl up in bed tonight with Matt and a stiff vodka tonic. Random House has been on my ass, wanting you to produce more quickly. As if you could. Shall I tie this new stand-alone into your upcoming deal? Publish the next three Matt Collins along with another three independent novels?”
Karlyn shook her head. “That’s the business end, Alicia. I won’t say I don’t care, but that’s why I have you to make those decisions. I want to write and have fun while I’m doing it.”
Alicia crossed her long legs, and Karlyn watched the corners of her mouth turn up in a Cheshire cat grin.
“You have news.”
“Do I?” The agent stretched like a feline. “I suppose I had you come in today for a tiny bit of news. I’m ecstatic you brought the finished manuscript along ahead of schedule. And even happier you’re ready to work so quickly on something new.”
“I do have something to spring on you.”
“Foreign rights in China finally?”
“Step-backs in the paperback versions of my Matt hard covers?”
Alicia shook her head. “Not even close.”
Karlyn sat back, arms crossed, her wheels turning as she studied her agent. Suddenly, it came to her.
“A movie deal for Matt.”
Alicia sighed. “You are no fun, Karlyn. That logical little brain of yours can solve any kind of puzzle.”
She jumped to her feet. “Are you kidding me? I guessed it? Matt is going to the movies?”
Alicia nodded. Karlyn pulled her friend to her feet and locked her in a tight hug.
A knock sounded on the door. Candi poked her head in.
“Guess you told her, boss.” The assistant entered with a bucket of champagne on ice and two crystal flutes.
Candi placed the items on the coffee table and smiled. “It took everything in my power not to scream the news when you came in.”
Karlyn hugged Candi. “You were great. I didn’t have any indication.”
Candi nodded sagely. “I did some acting back in the day. Off-off-off Broadway. But I was pretty good.”
“Hmmm.” Karlyn thought a moment. “Executive assistant and former actress. Knows a big secret about her boss but has the acting skills to keep it under wraps. He doesn’t even know she knows. And then he’s killed.”
She paused, her thoughts racing. “What if—”
“Not now, darling,” Alicia chided. “You’ve already got a fabulous new plot to work on. And a movie contract to celebrate.”
Candi poured the champagne and discreetly left. Karlyn sat back on the sofa as it hit her.
“So Matt will be a movie star. He’ll actually come to life. I wonder who will be cast.”
Alicia sipped from the crystal flute and almost purred her satisfaction. “We can’t control that. The deal is for all the rights to the character, the title, the plot for the first book in the series, and the possibility of you writing the screenplay.”
She sat up. “Me? I’ve never tried one before. I don’t know if I could do it. I’m so green, all I know is that one page of script equals one minute of film.”
“I said possibility, my dear. If we sign as it reads, you will have first crack at the screenplay. You may work alone, or the studio will assign a seasoned writer to work with you. But if the studio execs don’t like your draft, they can pass and move on to another screenwriter of their choosing.”
Karlyn chewed on that a moment. “Wait. You said rights to the character. Does that mean they would own Matt Collins? They could write any old storyline for him? Beyond my novels?”
She frowned. “I don’t like that, Alicia. I can see selling the title and first book. And having a shot at the screenplay would be an interesting challenge. But I don’t want them to put Matt in some piece of shit twenty years down the road.”
Alicia finished her champagne and poured herself another glass, topp
“I figured. I countered their offer. We’re discussing the possibilities now.” Her eyes twinkled. “But it looks good, Karlyn. I think we’ll be able to keep the rights to the character. If we come down in price on the rest.”
“Do it. I won’t give away the story rights, but I’d rather have creative control over the character. If they could put Matt in any story, it could even hurt my future book sales.”
“We could make more in the long run if they bought titles one at a time, too.” Alicia thought a moment. “Do you want the chance at tackling the screenplay to remain part of the deal?”
“Why not?” Karlyn toasted her glass with Alicia’s and drank the bubbly in one gulp.
Alicia patted her hand. “Then let me work a little more of my magic. I’ll get back to you soon.”
Karlyn laughed. “Your magic? I’ve seen you at the negotiating table. You’re like a pit bill locked onto the butcher’s best bone. If you ever went to law school, you could make a killing as a divorce attorney.”
Karlyn stood. “I don’t want to keep you. You have other clients’ needs to deal with. Besides, I won’t make it to the elevator before you’re manipulating this movie deal to your liking.”
Her agent shrugged. “All in a good day’s work.” She kissed Karlyn’s cheek. “Take care, darling. Go home. Write the afternoon away.”
Karlyn said goodbye and returned to the reception area. Candi was on the phone, so she waved at her and left the office.
Now all she had to do was share the good news with Mario.
Dread flooded Karlyn.
Logan Warner reached out to silence his phone’s alarm before it went off. He couldn’t remember the last time it buzzed to awaken him.
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