Thunder slammed, and lightning broke the sky. Edward Olson glanced at the flash that lit up the closed wood blinds. Without a word, he sighed. He wasn’t in the mood to dump a body by the river. Not in the pouring rain. But the urge to strangle Cynthia Langford wouldn’t let go. Edward tried to resist. He really did. He glanced at Cynthia, who sat next to him on his couch like a doe-eyed deer.
Couldn’t he have an occasional date without the pressure to kill?
But The Darkness, an entity only Edward could see, had its own agenda. The creature perched on top of the coat rack—head hung low, shoulders hunched. As if it were all a game, the beast click-clacked its upper and lower beak. Click-clack. Click-clack. With a lift, it flapped its spiked wings, whooshed across the room, and landed on Edward’s shoulder.
Edward glanced at his shadowy nemesis, a foot-tall creature with a beak, talons, and bat-shaped wings that could spread double its size when the damn thing flew—looking more like a thorn-covered Pterodactyl than a large bird. Its teeth, sharp as broken glass and vampiric, created a sense of desperate evil. A good candidate for Satan’s favorite pet, Edward often thought.
Click-clack. Click-clack. Click-clack.
The nonstop sound grated Edward’s nerves causing a hard tension to coil through him. He felt wound up and ready to pounce. And The Darkness wouldn’t shut up. Always push-push-pushing Edward into a rage. If only the creature would disappear. He often daydreamed of living in a world unhampered by the monstrosity and its cravings. He tried to imagine himself with problems like a bad job, a broken-down car, or a steep mortgage. But his fraternity in life had members like Theodore “Ted” Bundy, Son-of-Sam David Berkowitz, and Blind-Torture-Kill murderer, Dennis Rader—all plagued by entities that forced them to kill.
Edward’s jaw clenched, and he swiped at the creature on his shoulder. The Darkness squawked, zoomed around the room, and landed on the other shoulder—its talons sunk deep.
As if it had a mind of its own, Edward’s heel pumped up and down. His head pounded. Leave me alone, Edward thought—the words whizzed in his mind like a violent hurricane. The intensity of his need gnawed at him until he had no choice.
Edward glanced at Cynthia and muttered, “Can you excuse me a sec?”
“Sure, doll.” Cynthia kissed his cheek. “Hurry back,” she cooed. “I miss you already.” She batted her hooded eyes.
Kill her, The Darkness insisted and leaped onto the coat rack.
Edward peered at the malicious creature as it snapped its beak open and shut, open and shut—escalating—becoming harsher, louder. Each click and clack taunted him. He felt as if a torture device was stretching his skin.
At one time, Edward thought he would get used to the click-clacking, but that never happened. The repetitive sound fucked with him like a hungry mosquito serenading an ear until it drove him into a rage. Edward curled his hands into fists, dug his nails into his palms, and sprang from the couch. As he barged toward the kitchen, he focused on maintaining control.
Just get me to the kitchen before I snap. But the ruthless shadow was already in the kitchen. Waiting. Click-clacking. The beast snorted then ground its jagged teeth together. The crunch of bone on bone—hideous.
Trying to get ahead of the terrible compulsion, Edward grabbed a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue and gulped a shot. Sometimes it cooled him down.
But not tonight.
A zap of recklessness jolted through him.
Edward paced. Another shot.
And the click-clacking. The racket infuriated him. He needed a break.
“What should we watch?” Cynthia called from the screening room.
Edward had planned a quiet night—pizza and a movie—until The Darkness opened its cruel beak. And now, not even allowing Edward a chance to choose a film, the entity put him to the test.
Would you fucking stop? Edward slammed the scotch bottle against the Italian tile counter so hard it shattered. Glass and whiskey flew across the floor.
“Are you okay?” Cynthia’s voice swirled from the other room.
And The Darkness—again with the beak clicking. The sounds ricocheted from wall to wall. Edward knew only one thing would ease the wrath that boiled inside him. Only one antidote could heal the sickness that cursed him.
“Edward?” Cynthia called.
Her voice wove between the booming sounds in Edward’s head. His blue eyes, now black as death, focused as he strutted into the entertainment room. He no longer saw Cynthia. He no longer cared. She was nothing.
“Edward, what’s wrong?”
Her shrill voice seemed too much to bear. And the incessant clicking, then crunching of the teeth drove him mad. He grabbed Cynthia by the neck and squeezed.
Cynthia’s eyes filled with confused terror.
The Darkness landed on Edward—dug its talons into Edward’s back—and rode him hard. The snapping and click-clacking reached a crescendo.
Cynthia, kicking and gasping, struggled to escape, but Edward held her firm—his strength too much for her. Although the light faded from her eyes, Cynthia refused to stop fighting.
Edward liked it when they struggled. It added to the drama.
The choking went on until Cynthia lost consciousness. Edward let go and slapped her until she came to. At first, she seemed disoriented, but seconds later, she tried to scream. His large hands went right to her throat—squeezing until she passed out again. He brought her back. Then strangled her once more. He took pleasure in blacking them out then reviving them.
It’s like playing chess with Death.
Edward’s smile turned vicious, and he skidded into a frenzy. He tightened his hands around Cynthia’s neck. Trying to untangle herself from his grip, she kicked. But Edward hung on. Squeezing the life out of . . . of . . . whoever the hell she was . . . until she succumbed. Burst blood vessels in the whites of her eyes looked like veils of red lace. Her tongue turned a tell-all blue. Small marks dotted her neck.
Edward fell back onto the couch, the kill rushing through him. He howled like the predator he was. He was so drunk with pleasure he felt as if he could float with the clouds, dance with autumn leaves, sleep on the sea. The sensation lasted a minute, sometimes less. Didn’t matter. Those seconds of ecstasy, those seconds of freedom, were worth the hassle of getting the body to the river in the rain. Mud or not.
The Darkness lifted from Edward’s back, stretched its wings, and disappeared into a gloomy corner of the room. Heady from the release, Edward pulled himself back into the now. Back to Cynthia, sprawled on the couch like a discarded rag doll.
Edward glanced at the clock. No wonder he was hungry. He picked up the takeout menu—pepperoni or sausage? He couldn’t decide. Hell, he had no idea what Cynthia preferred. To be fair, he ordered a half-and-half with a side of garlic fries then turned on the TV. Scrolling through the movies, he settled on Sleepless in Seattle. Romantic comedy, his favorite.
Startled, Edward jerked out of a dream. It took a few moments to orient himself. He was still in the screening room—one arm wrapped around Cynthia Langford’s body. The red light from the clock cast a hollow glow. On TV, a shady-eyed preacher tried his best to sell God.
Edward peeked between the blinds and appraised the early morning. Moon slivered. Slight drizzling. He could make it down to the river and back dry if he wore rain gear—another hassle. He lifted Cynthia and hauled her out to his three-car garage. Her stiffening body felt like a bag of cement, but he crammed her into the trunk and slammed it.
As he drove toward Cynthia’s new resting place, Edward listened to de Senneville’s music. Once parked, he fast-forwarded to “Mariage d’Amour,” the perfect piece for carrying Cynthia’s body down to the river’s edge—she would have loved the romance of it all.
Edward took a moment to take in his surroundings. Low-lit industrial buildings stood like gravestones against the sky. The air was still, and the sound of the water gurgled like a death rattle. He lay Cynthia on the concrete and dirt silt and noticed her foot dangling in the water. Would she mind? A gentleman, he dragged the body toward the incline that led to the fence. Should he head home and return later? Or grab the tarp and have sex with her now?
By the time Edward dumped Cynthia and returned home, it was 4:30 a.m. His first class, Legal Writing, was less than a few hours away. Shit. The last thing I want is to ruin my buzz. He decided, instead, to take a road trip to Las Vegas. It would be a luxury to escape the bloated, dull Seattle clouds and the stresses of being a student.
Edward turned onto I-84, heading east. He debated how long he wanted to be on the road. Most times, he drove to Vegas. He’d lose himself in reflective thought, dissecting his behavior and mood. Sometimes he’d focus on finding the next woman. Today, he felt like driving for its own sake. Take in the scenery. Enjoy the desert heat.
Law school was a goddamn albatross. First, it was time-consuming, and second, at thirty, he was the oldest in the class. It would be hip to say he was an attorney, but he hadn’t realized the work involved in becoming one. Shit. Why not drop out of school and just say he was a lawyer? How hard would it be to add law books and fake files to his office? It’s not like he needed the money.
His long-lost grandmother had skipped his bitch-of-a-dead-mother and had left her fortune to him. The six million-plus allowed Edward to live well. He had an estate on five acres, and women adored the seclusion—that is until they screamed for help, and nobody came. The pool, the screening room, the home gym, and the woods that surrounded the 4500-square-foot house were only a few features his luxury home offered.
Edward decided he’d stay at the Bellagio. Sometimes he’d meet a woman at the pool, take her to Sinatra’s for Veal Parmigiana, maybe catch a show, and walk her back to the hotel. But this trip, he’d spend time at the casinos, shop at Caesar’s, and cruise the streets. There are always women in Vegas looking for some fun.
After two days, the death of a hooker, and three thousand in winnings, Edward headed back to Seattle. Instead of working out in his home gym, he stopped at his health club near the University.
After a busy Monday at work, twenty-six-year-old Cate Derry headed to the gym. She’d been a nurse at the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center for a month and was now familiar with the protocols. Although worn out, she convinced herself to get on the elliptical trainer for thirty minutes. She put in her earbuds, turned on her music, and claimed the last open machine. Next to her, a Dylan McDermott look-alike glanced at her, smiled like he knew her, and returned to his workout. In trendy workout clothes, he looked like new money. His tousled dark hair—shaved close on the sides and longer on top—highlighted his haunting blue eyes. His cheekbones were high fashion. Oh, yes, she’d seen his type before and was certain women threw themselves at him.
But not Cate.
She pulled herself back to her workout and kept her pace while Lady Gaga sang. Perspiration cleansed the stress she carried in her neck and shoulders. Critical care was for strong-willed and tough-minded nurses. Cate, however, vowed she would leave her career if she ever felt hardened.
Cate’s workout slowed from the fifteen-minute cooldown to a complete stop. The guy next to her wound down as well.
“Looks like you worked your butt off,” he said, his voice casual.
Cate pulled the earbuds out. “I’m sorry, I . . . ah . . . what did you say?” She blushed. Her lack of experience with men presented as social awkwardness. She didn’t like small talk. Didn’t have the gift.
“You’re new here?” The Dylan-McDermott-of-the-gym asked.
“Nope. I usually come around six. I didn’t realize the gym would be empty later in the evening.”
“Don’t get used to it. It’s an off-night.”
“Right.” Cate stepped off the elliptical and blotted her face with a towel.
“What do you do that keeps your workout late?” He grabbed his towel.
“I’m a nurse.” Her anxiety revved to high, and she glanced toward the locker room. Okay, Gotta run, she thought she’d say. But he’d steered the conversation forward before she could speak.
“Impressive. Hey, I like the ponytail.”
She’d pulled her straight hair back that morning—part of her daily routine–and put her ponytail near the crown of her head. Made her look spunky, which she liked. The scrubs in her locker were a cheery blue with a small-rabbits-and-carrots design. The blue pants matched. Cate felt cartoon tops made her less intimidating to patients and highlighted the difference between her and the bully nurses who ran the fifth-floor Critical Care Unit.
Well, say something. Don’t just stand there like an idiot. “Keeps it out of my face.” Cate glanced at the two yellow balls in his elliptical’s cupholder. “What do you do with your balls?” Holy cheeses. Did I just say that? Cate felt her face heat.
He laughed. “Well, that’s an interesting question.”
“I know. I meant . . . I didn’t think before—”
“Works out my hands,” he said with a wink. “I like to keep them strong.” He picked up a ball and squeezed it. “I’m a defense attorney. You never know when you might need to punch an obnoxious prosecutor.”
“Smart and funny.” Fine. Enough small talk. It was the perfect time to untangle herself from this conversation. “Gotta run.” She headed toward the women’s locker room.
“Hey, wait.” He hurried to her side. “Is your name Caitlyn Derry?”
“Do I know you?”
“We . . . uh . . . had a class together. I dropped it after three days, but I remember you.”
“Really?” Cate eyed him. “What class?”
“What class?” he repeated. “Biology. I thought about medical school.”
“Good memory.” How could he possibly remember me? Cate thought. But it didn’t matter—not really. “Well, nice to see you again,” she mumbled, still walking.
“How about dinner Saturday night?”
“Sorry.” She felt her face flush as she shook her head.
He caught up with her. “Lunch?”
“I don’t date.”
“Coffee and a bagel?”
Deep within, she felt an undercurrent of magnetism she didn’t understand; even so, she stopped, turned toward him, and smiled. “I’m sorry. No.”