Has she already fallen prey to the vicious stranger hunting her?
Publication Date: Jan 26, 2016
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Crime Fiction
Life turns from barely tolerable to complete hell when Maddy Eastin’s impulsive plan to win back the attention of her absentee father backfires. Word of her scheme spreads through her high school, but when mockery escalates to cyberbullying, Maddy and her failed stunt become headline news. But the worst is yet to come…
A disturbed man is fighting the overwhelming urge to surrender to his true nature—a moral code molded by a sadistic father who taught him that a girl needs proper training to become the perfect subservient woman. As he watches Maddy on the evening news, his already fractured psyche completely splinters. She’s the girl he’s been waiting for.
When Maddy disappears, she’s labeled a runaway even though her mother believes it was foul play. Will the two detectives investigating Maddy’s disappearance find her before it’s too late? Or has she already fallen prey to the vicious stranger hunting her?
This psychological thriller unfolds through the viewpoints of five deeply flawed characters. Each is on their own emotionally charged journey that ultimately intersects in a collision course of devastating consequences.
The grumble of a heavy diesel engine alerted Maddy that only two minutes separated her from either a ride to school or another lecture from her mom about missing the bus. She slammed the front door and stepped into the sticky heat of a dark September morning. The moisture in the Florida air enveloped her, its thickness slowing her down. Or maybe the lethargic pace simply matched her outlook toward this dreary school day.
The geometry book jutting out of the small hole in the bottom of her backpack cut into her ribs with every step. She yanked down the sleeves riding up her arms to hide the fresh marks. From behind her, a metallic grinding of brakes cut through the darkness. She reached the bus stop expecting to see the yellow beast that would drag her off to school. Instead, a fat guy hopped off the back of a garbage truck and lifted a recycling bin off the ground.
Dammit. I forgot to put the trash out. Something else for Mom to complain about.
The bus was late again. Maddy wondered where Sabrina was—her friend usually beat her to the bus stop, but this morning she was a no-show. Maybe Sabrina’s cough had turned into something more serious.
Lucky. Now she will have an extra day to study for our geometry exam.
Maddy had thought about playing the sick card this morning, but she knew there was no way her mom would have believed the act. And the only thing Maddy dreaded more than geometric theorems was cleaning the toilet.
Bending down on one knee, Maddy swung her backpack to the ground. She squinted through the murky haze of the nearest streetlight and fumbled with its zipper.
Why we moved us to this dump of a neighborhood is beyond me.
Half the streetlights were burned out, including the one directly over Maddy’s head.
The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour, but she still found herself wiping away moisture collecting near her hairline.
A soft squealing noise jerked her attention away from the task of rearranging the books in her bag. A van had pulled up to the corner—a real piece of junk from the sound of the roughly idling engine. The feeling of being watched caused a crop of goose bumps to pop up on her arms.
Really? Now a van has you spooked?
Maddy blamed the paranoia on those stupid stranger-danger videos her mom had forced her to watch as a kid. She could still hear the nasally narrator’s voice in her head, warning her not to get into a car with someone she didn’t know, and never to accept candy from a stranger.
Maddy zipped her backpack closed and stood, still staring at the van. It’s not like work vehicles in this neighborhood were an unusual occurrence. Most days it was like playing Mario Kart, having to dodge all the trucks on the street. It seemed half the neighbors cut grass for a living and parked their trailers full of lawn equipment on the road every night after work.
The smell of burning rubber drifted toward her. The voice in Maddy’s head morphed into her dad’s and informed the idiot in the van that he should change the belts. Of course, the source of the smell could’ve been coming from an oil leak in the engine. Maddy couldn’t decide the exact cause. She’d always hated it when her dad forced her into the garage to help him tinker with the car. Even so, she’d give anything to have him back now, to complain one more time about the grease stuck under her fingernails or how impossible it was to remove oil stains from her jeans.
A muted flash appeared behind the tinted glass of the van’s passenger window. Someone still sat inside.
Probably getting his rocks off staring at my bare legs.
The window slid down a crack. A new scent skirted the air, a sweeter smell that caused a craving to wash over Maddy.
She strained her eyes, looking for writing on the side panel of the van. Nothing visible. She wondered if a workman had arrived early to a job site. The sound of a garage door opening down the street tore Maddy’s attention away. She turned, hoping to see Sabrina rushing toward the bus stop. The low light of the streetlamp illuminated a dark figure pushing a garbage can to the curb.
Another rumble drew near. Maddy breathed a sigh of relief when she caught a glimpse of yellow passing between the houses and trees on the other side of the neighborhood. Her stop would be next.
She cocked her head to the side, realizing the smell of smoke was closer. Just as she turned her head, an iron hand clamped around her wrist.