One man killed, another poised on the edge between life and death… And it’s not over yet.
Adam Rutledge regrets that he missed his chance to stop the man terrorizing Beecham County, and that people close to him are suffering because of it. But Adam’s torment is only beginning.
No one is safe from the man in the shadows, as Adam will soon learn. But the serial killer isn’t the only threat he faces. Something even darker is assaulting Adam’s mind, an evil he can’t begin to comprehend.
Adam remains the only person who can put an end to the growing menace but, with his sanity hanging by a thread, he can’t do it alone. Together he and an unlikely ally must track down the only person who may understand what the madman has in store, the only person who knows how to stop him… They hope.
Note: This is a true trilogy–first read Books One and Two, Prodigal and Founder!
If it’s been a while since you read the earlier books, I strongly recommend you reread Prodigal and Founder or have them close to hand, just in case. Recall that Founder left various characters dead, in a coma, on the run from the law, or generally picking up the pieces (including facing possible criminal prosecution).
Their story continues in Heir.
Following are the first two chapters of Heir, Dead Hollow Book Three…
Where am I?
Disoriented, Adam tried to turn and take in his surroundings, but he wasn’t certain where he was. Not where he found himself in a geographic sense, but where he—whatever made him uniquely him—was. Adam wasn’t in his own body. In someone else’s? But he didn’t have a sense of seeing through someone else’s eyes, either; he just saw.
What did he see? It was dark, but not a void. He waited patiently for features to reveal themselves. Was he inside or outside? Both. Or neither. He smelled earth, damp stone and decomposition, and the lonely history of the world. He was drawn toward a charcoal grayness that was a cousin to light, and toward a small figure huddled within it. There was something else, something he recoiled from as he passed, but he couldn’t stop. He was pulled to something else. To someone else.
Her face was a pale glow in the darkness, close to the ground. Too close to be standing. She was kneeling, or sitting on her heels. She… who was she? He couldn’t speak to ask. Fear rolled from her like shock waves from an explosion. He could see the fear more clearly than he could see her. It pressed against him. More than a current—a tsunami in an ocean of fear.
He had a sense of movement, tiny ghost flashes—her hands? Why couldn’t Adam see her hands? One of the flashes went to her face, and her face disappeared. Unnerved, he struggled to get closer, to comprehend.
Until he could distinguish a hint of color, a subtly shaded difference in the dark.
Her hands were bathed in blood, and now her face—where her hands touched—had disappeared beneath it.
No… no, no, no—
She opened her mouth and screamed.
And he screamed with her.
Adam fell through the grayness, flailing, hands catching at something… no, he was sliding. Sliding out of a chair. His back twisted painfully as his body torqued, one arm caught in the frame of a hospital bed, until he came to a stop in a half squat. His heart fluttered, and his returning vision grayed out again when he stood.
Come on, he thought, ignoring the tightness in his chest. Come on…
Breathing helped, once Adam remembered to do it.
Harlan’s face swam into focus. Crisp, white sheet pulled up to his chin. Eyes closed, as they always were now. So it wasn’t Harlan.
Evie. It all returned to him in a rush. Evie was in danger. Back in Cold Springs, a hundred or so miles away. He had to warn JJ that her daughter was in danger.
Adam’s mind stumbled, sluggish. Phone. He needed a phone. He patted his pockets before remembering he still hadn’t replaced the cell phone he’d trashed while trying to save Harlan. Of course Harlan didn’t have a phone, and there was no landline in the hospital room. Adam staggered into the hallway toward the nurse’s station. There was no one there, which was often the case this time of day. Night. Whatever.
He bumped the counter as he rounded it and grabbed the receiver from the desk. Silence. How was he supposed to get an outside line? He pushed a button and heard a clicking noise, but no dial tone. He punched another button. Still nothing.
“What are you doing?” a woman asked. Her dark hair was pulled back, and she wore blue scrubs and a frown.
Adam recognized her, but couldn’t make out her name tag. His eyes still weren’t quite focusing. “I—I’m sorry,” he stuttered. “I have to make a call, and I can’t figure out how to do it.”
“This isn’t a phone booth,” she said.
“I know, but this is important. Please,” he begged. “Please help me.”
Her mouth twisted as she looked around. She took the receiver from his hand and sighed. “This one time,” she said, punching buttons before handing the receiver back to Adam. “You can dial now. But make it quick.”
“Thank you.” Adam’s fingers trembled as he dialed, and it took so long to go through, he feared he’d gotten the number wrong. Finally, it started ringing. “Come on, JJ, pick up. Come on—”
On the fourth ring, JJ’s voice cut in. “What? Am I on?”
“JJ, it’s Adam,” he said, counting to three in his mind to give her a chance to wake up. He knew she was answering automatically, that she could make it through the shower and be parking at the Plattsville hospital for an emergency shift before realizing where she was.
“Adam? What’s wrong?” Her mouth fumbled a bit with wrong, still trying to wake up. “Is Harlan okay?”
“He’s fine. I need you to do something for me.”
“Okay…” As she dragged out the word, her mind seemed to clear. “What is it that you need me to do at four a.m.?”
“Go check on Evie.”
“Just do it!” Adam snapped, then pressed his cold hand against his warm forehead as he turned away from the nurse, who pretended not to watch him. “I’m sorry, JJ. Please do it now. I’ll wait.”
Adam rocked on his heels where he stood, back and forth, trying to cover the shimmy that encompassed his entire body. Trying to pretend he wasn’t screaming inside. Come on…
An elderly man in pajamas approached the desk. He’d seen the man before, maybe roaming the halls. The nurse glanced at Adam, eyes narrowed, before reluctantly stepping away to assist the patient.
What’s taking so long?
JJ’s voice came over the line. “Adam, are you still there?”
He opened his mouth, but the sound that came out wasn’t a word. “Yes,” he said on his second try.
“She’s fine,” JJ said. “She’s sleeping.”
Adam dropped into one of the chairs, rested his head on his free hand, and whispered a prayer of thanks.
“And she’s breathing,” JJ added, “because I checked. I haven’t done that since she had pneumonia when she was little. You want to tell me why you felt you had to scare the shit out of me?”
Short of breath, he didn’t answer immediately.
“Adam? You there?”
“I had a dream,” he whispered. “A very bad dream.”
He could feel JJ on the other end, considering. “Like your ‘dreams’ before? When you saw things happening to people?”
People. To Rachel. And his mother and father. And him. “Not exactly. What if I saw something that’s going to happen, that hasn’t happened yet?”
JJ blew out her breath on the other end, and he could see her sinking back on her bed. But how? Was it his imagination? Intuition?
Her voice dropped. “Did you throw up?”
Leave it to JJ to get right to the point.
“No,” he admitted. And that was unusual for his visions.
“Have you ever seen something like that before? Something… what’s the word? Prescient?” she asked.
“So maybe that’s all it was,” she said gently. “A bad dream.”
“Maybe,” he said. Because he wanted to believe that. But he didn’t. Not yet. “I’m sorry for waking you, JJ. Crap, you’ve got a hearing today, don’t you? Is it for shooting the cop, or for the restraining order?”
“The protective order. But I’ll have the same attorney with me.”
“Will Marcus have a lawyer?”
“I don’t know.”
Adam waited—for her to say something else, for his anxiety to fade away. Neither happened. “How do you feel about seeing Marcus?”
“I feel like he’s an asshole. How am I supposed to feel?” she asked. “Sorry. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Would it help if I—”
“I said, I don’t want to talk about it,” JJ cut in. “How about we dig through your major life mistakes instead?”
Adam rubbed the building ache in his forehead. “I haven’t taken enough chances to make major life mistakes. Not the kind that matter.”
JJ sighed. “Aren’t we a pair of pathetic turds?”
It was the language of their childhood. Adam could almost feel JJ’s shoulder touching his while they leaned against the oak tree in her yard. He replied, “Except now we’re old and crusty pathetic turds.”
“Speak for yourself,” JJ said, laughing softly. “Go back to sleep, Crusty.”
“Okay,” he said, though he knew he wouldn’t. “You, too.”
He set the phone down gently when he heard the line click, then went back to kneading his brows. The nurse hadn’t returned. He wondered if she’d use a hand sanitizer on the phone when she did. Ear sanitizer? Was there such a thing?
With his eyes closed and one ear still dodgy from its recent river injury, Iris’s voice was almost unrecognizable. She sounded like an elderly woman—a grandmother—which Iris had never done. He almost dreaded opening his eyes and seeing how thin she’d gotten in the past weeks. How much she’d aged. When he did, he forced himself to smile.
“Is Harlan all right?” she asked.
He nodded, rose and put an arm around her bony shoulder. She’d said she was making a run to the twenty-four-hour Walmart to pick up some essentials, but Adam was pretty sure she’d lied. Iris had been spending a lot of time in the hospital chapel, more than she wanted to admit to. Or rather, she wouldn’t want to admit why. Iris was a churchgoing woman, but she’d never had much truck with people who asked for intercessory prayer. Now, with Harlan’s condition unchanging, that’s all she had. And Iris didn’t like to be a hypocrite.
“Why were you on the phone to JJ?” she asked.
“What makes you think—”
“Who else would you call at such a crazy hour?”
Days and weeks spent sitting, waiting, had not given her more patience for playing verbal games, either. Unless, of course, she was the one dodging.
“She has a hearing tomorrow on her restraining order,” Adam said, not precisely answering because he’d learned from the best.
Iris wrapped her arm around his waist, and he hoped she couldn’t pick up any physiological clues—sweating, heart pounding, shaking—that he was still upset. She had enough to worry about.
“She think it’ll go okay?” Iris asked.
“Who knows?” he replied. “JJ is the Queen of Compartmentalization. And there are rooms in her mind that she never returns to.”
“How is that different from locking yourself in a room you never leave?”
Adam stopped, and felt Iris stop next to him. Was that what he’d done, his entire adult life? Even beyond that, into childhood?
Iris had covered her mouth with her hand. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
The anxiety from his dream, the grief on her face—together they squeezed his chest up into his throat. He forced a smile that he doubted was convincing and pulled her back to his side. “You are a wicked old woman. The big bad wolf would’ve had his work cut out for him with you.” Then he kissed the top of her head. Her long, white-gray hair smelled like vanilla. “Love you, Gram.”
“Back at you, kiddo,” she said.
Returning to the room, Iris took the chair closest to Harlan, pulled a shawl tight around her shoulders and tucked her chin to her chest, eyes closed as if she were going to nap. “I think you should take a break and stay in Cold Springs for a while.”
Adam had started to slump in his own chair, but straightened. “How long is a while?”
“I’ll be home in a day or two—I need to take care of some things that have piled up around the house—and we can talk about it then.”
“Do you not want me here?” Adam asked.
Her eyes opened slowly, and she glared at him. “Don’t even try it. I’ve spent decades resisting manipulation.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, raising his hands in surrender. He hadn’t been trying to manipulate her—at least not consciously. He spent a moment or two feeling guilty, before he realized (it was a wee bit early to expect the synapses to be fully firing) Iris was manipulating him. She’d just won the argument, such as it was.
She is a wicked old woman.
Adam almost smiled. He would have, except he couldn’t help feeling she’d done it because she was hiding something from him.