Till Death

Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout


There were rules.

Rules that shouldn’t be broken, but it had happened this time and damn it, it would happen again. Didn’t matter that everything had been under control up until this point. Didn’t matter that the rules had been followed and needed to be followed.

Everything was different now.

She was coming back.

And she would ruin everything again.

The huddled, pathetic shadow in the corner whimpered. The woman was awake. Finally. It wasn’t nearly as fun when they were passed out through all the good parts. Planning required patience, and patience was truly a virtue, one mastered over years and years of waiting.

Bloodied, dirtied rope circled the ankles and wrists. When she slowly lifted her chin and her lashes fluttered open, her startled cry came from deep within a well of endless terror. It was in her wide glazed-over eyes. She knew. Oh yeah, she knew she wasn’t walking out of here. She knew that the sunlight she’d seen when she’d gotten into her car the morning she’d left for work was the last sunlight she’d see. She knew that was the last time she’d breathe fresh air.

Dim artificial light was her home now. The musky, earthy scent would be with her right down to the very last breath she took, and that scent would clog her pores and cling to her hair.

This would be her final place.

The woman tipped her head back against the damp brick wall. The terror in her gaze gave way to pleading. Always did. So fucking predictable. So pointless. There was no hope here. There was no chance of a miracle. Once they came here, there was no knight riding to the rescue.

Footsteps sounded upstairs. A second later, faint laughter echoed, drawing the woman’s wide gaze to the ceiling. She tried to yell, to scream, but the sounds were muffled. Those pathetic sounds stopped when dull light glimmered off the sharp blade.

She shook her head wildly, flinging limp blond strands across her pale face. Tears filled her brown eyes.

“It’s not your fault.”

Her chest heaved with erratic breaths.

“If she wasn’t coming back, this may never have happened to you. It’s her fault.” There was a pause as the woman’s gaze flew to the end of the knife. “She fucked me and I will fuck her back in the most unpleasant manner.”

This time it was going to end like it always should. She was going to die, but first, she would pay. Pay for everything.

Chapter 1

My heart started racing as my gaze trekked to the rearview mirror. My brown eyes seemed too big and wide at the moment. I looked freaked out, and I was.

Taking a deep breath, I grabbed my purse and opened the door of my Honda, stepping out. Cold air immediately coasted under the thin sweater I wore as I closed the door behind me. I inhaled deeply, surrounded by the scent of freshly cut grass.

I took a step toward the inn I’d grown up in and hadn’t seen in years. It was the way I remembered. Wind stirred the vacant rockers. The bushy ferns that hung from late spring to early fall were gone. The clapboard was painted a fresh white. Shutters a deep forest green and . . .

And my throat dried. Tiny bumps raced across my skin, lifting the wisps of blond hair at the nape of my neck. An awful, surreal feeling slammed into my gut. My breath caught in my throat once more.

The feeling was like a slick, too-heavy caress down the center of my back. The nape of my neck burned like it had when he would sit behind me—

Pivoting around, I scanned the front yard. Tall hedges lined the property. It was a decent distance from Queen Street, the main road cutting straight through the town, but I could hear the cars passing by. No one was out here. I turned full circle. No one was on the porch or in the yard. Maybe someone was at one of the windows or the inn, but I was alone out here despite the way my pulse pounded or what instinct screamed at me.

I focused on the green hedges again. They were so thick someone could be hidden behind them, watching and waiting for—

“Stop it.” I closed my free hand into a fist. “You’re being paranoid and stupid. Just stop it. No one is watching you.”

But my heart didn’t slow down and a fine tremor coursed through my tensing muscles. I reacted physically and without thought.

I panicked.

Icy claws of terror sunk deep into my chest and I ran—ran from the side of my car and into the inn. Everything was a blind blur as I hit the stairs and kept running, all the way to the upper level.

There, in the quiet and narrow hallway outside the apartments above the inn, out of breath and feeling sick, I dropped my purse on the floor and bent over, clasping my knees as I dragged in deep, uneven breaths.

I hadn’t stopped to notice if the inn had changed in the years I’d been absent, hadn’t stopped to find my mother. I’d run like there were demons snapping at my heels.

And that was how this felt.

This was a mistake.

“No,” I whispered to the ceiling. I leaned against the wall and smoothed my hands down my face. “This isn’t a mistake.”

Lowering my arms to the wall, I forced my eyes open as I dragged in a deep breath. Of course I would have a . . . strong reaction to returning home, to coming back here after everything had happened.

When I left, I’d sworn I’d never come back.

Never say never.

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