NYT & USA Today Bestselling Author
Where love has a happily ever after...
a standalone romantic suspense
Sentenced to death...
All hope gone...
Until he receives a visit from victim #6
Condemned for a crime he didn’t commit, Quinten Peterson sat on death row praying for a miracle. He just never expected his angel of mercy to be the girl he fell in love with so long ago.
The press called her a victim, but Saige Lockwood was a survivor. And she had twenty-eight days to discover the truth about what really happened to her that fateful night, eight years ago.
With time running out, Saige desperately needed to unlock her memories . . . before it was too late.
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Saige thought her head would explode from the pain as she fought to escape her nightmare-ridden sleep. A groan burst from between her dry lips. Her body shivered. Her naked skin stuck to the hard surface beneath her in a cold sweat. She tried to move her arms, but they refused to budge. Her eyes snapped open and panic rushed through her body as she realized that she was blindfolded. She gave another tug on the restraints that kept her wrists bound, but there was no give. Her heart raced while she tried to remember… Where was she? What was she doing? Who was she with?
An icy fear twisted around her heart—she couldn’t remember anything.
“You’re awake,” his distorted voice was emotionless and cold, chilling her to the bone.
Fear crept down her spine.
Saige, God dammit! Pull yourself together, and think!
A calloused hand caressed her ankle, making her skin crawl. Without any other thought but survival, Saige kicked out quickly, moving her legs and putting as much force as she could into it.
Her right foot connected with hard flesh, followed by a groan and then a long, brittle silence.
“Fucking bitch,” he roared.
He grabbed both her legs and used his body to hold her down while his fingers fumbled to restrain her.
Feeling a sharp prick in her thigh, her strength disappeared and the fight slowly seeped out of her limbs.
“I’m going to make you pay for breaking my nose,” he growled into her ear, “you’ll hurt so badly you will pray for death.”
She began to shake as the fearful images built in her mind.
“That’s right, Saige”—he fastened something around her neck—“you can’t cause any more trouble now.” He laughed, a frightening, manic sound that was almost worse than everything else he was doing to her. She knew the sound would give her nightmares.
“Nothing to say?” His voice was inflamed and hostile.
Panic like she’d never known before welled in her throat as he trailed his fingers down her torso to her feet.
She tried to move away from his touch but the restraints held firm. She wasn’t going anywhere and her stomach turned as realization set in.
Tears seeped into the fabric of her blindfold. As she was pulled into sleep, her last conscious thought was of the man she loved. He’d find her...
6:00am ~ 4 days later
A trail of white mist filled the air in front of Quinten as his breath froze. The cold was unusual for Florida, but they’d been under a cold spell for over a week.
The weather didn’t really bother him as much as the lack of sleep did. He tried to rub the gritty feeling of tiredness from his eyes. His feet were heavy as he moved through yet another section of the forest, ducking and just missing being hit in the face by a stray branch.
He felt crazed, like his mind was trapped somewhere else and he was just a shell searching through the ruins of his life. He’d been this way from the moment Saige’s abandoned car had been discovered along the side of the highway.
Quinten hadn’t been able to just sit back in his small house while his wife, Jocelyn, had been on constant repeat with the vulgar things she spewed. The last straw had been when she casually said Saige Lockwood was probably dead. He’d never wanted to hit anyone as much as he wanted to hit her right then. He hadn’t. Instead he’d told her to pack her bags and be gone by the time he got back—something he should have told her to do three years ago.
Unable to accept that Saige had been taken from him, he’d started his own search. Twenty-seven hours later, he was exhausted and knew he’d have to rest soon or he’d pass out from lack of sleep or lack of nourishment.
The fatigue would explain why, when he took his next step, his feet went out from under him. With a thump he landed on his ass. He scrambled for a foothold as he started to slide down the muddy slope, his arms flailed out as he tried to grab onto a branch to try and slow his momentum. Seconds later, his body jolted painfully as he collided into a wooden shack.
Stunned, Quinten moved into a sitting position, his body aching from the fall. With a quick glance around, he realized the shack was invisible to the naked eye, hidden so deeply in the foliage that he’d have probably missed it if he hadn’t fallen. Walking around to the front, he noticed the shiny lock on the door. It told him he was on the right track, or he prayed he was.
Dropping his knapsack to the ground, he took out his pocketknife and quickly tried to pry the lock open, but it wouldn’t budge. The wood that held the lock was worn, so he stabbed at that and smiled when splinters of wood started to fly off.
He quickly took in his surroundings, which ended up being a big mistake. Pain shot up his arm to his shoulder, radiating throughout his body, as he missed the wood. Blood ran in rivulets down to his hand, dropping on the ground.
The good thing was that he’d gotten the door loose. The bad thing was that if he didn’t stop the flow of his own blood soon, he wouldn’t be of much use to anyone.
Standing back, he kicked the door of the shack open, stumbled inside, and knew he’d never forget the sight that greeted him.
He paused on the threshold as his eyes adjusted to the dim light and his brain tried to ignore the smells that assaulted him. He choked on the horror of it all and staggered toward the wooden table bolted to the middle of the floor. “Saige,” he whispered, his mouth dry, voice broken with the overwhelming grief he felt. She didn’t move and he hesitated before his fingers searched her neck for a pulse. Relief flooded through him...she had one, albeit faint.
The weakness in his body drew his attention to his arm, which he’d forgotten about. He took a quick glance around the shack, and moved to what looked like a workbench. Grabbing an old rag, he wound it around his arm and tied off a tourniquet before he moved back to Saige’s still body.
So much blood.
The leather straps around her ankles and wrists felt new and were stiff and unyielding as his fingers fumbled with the buckles.
He grabbed what looked to be a surgical knife and sawed through the bindings before he moved to her neck. He gulped and swiped at the tears and sweat that blurred his vision. He couldn’t afford tears, they’d have to wait until Saige was safe.
The leather strap around her neck was wide and thick with no give. He was surprised she hadn’t choked to death. But he thanked God that the buckle was easy to work because he sure as hell didn’t want to risk using a knife near her neck.
The leather gave and he hesitated, he had no idea where to touch her because of all the lacerations that covered her body, the majority closed with congealed blood.
He removed the blindfold slowly and placed a kiss to each closed eyelid, relieved that she would now be safe while she slept on.
Shrugging off his long jacket, he covered her with it. His eyes scanned her broken body and he held his breath, praying that he didn’t hurt her further as he lifted her into his arms.
Without wasting any more time, Quinten quickly dashed out of the shack and through the forest. He hadn’t gone far when he needed to catch his breath. He leaned against a tree and looked around carefully, analyzing where he needed to go from there. He used his quick stop to his advantage and called the sheriff to meet them in a clearing not too far from where they were—he needed to put distance between them and the shack.
There was hardly any weight to Saige as he carried her against his chest. His body shook with relief that he’d gotten to her in time, and in fear that the sick fuck would come back before he could get her away.
Nearing the road, Quinten looked down when Saige gave a slight gasp. She was still unconscious, but he didn’t want to risk her waking and struggling in his arms. He spotted a small patch of grass that was free of brambles and underbrush and hurried forward to set her down.
He dropped to his knees and carefully placed her down, hoping that he didn’t cause her any more pain.
She murmured slightly and curled into the warmth of his jacket.
The location he’d given the cops was about a five minute walk from where they were. They’d have to be blind to miss them. He was tempted to go and wait for them. Lead them back to her. But as his eyes wandered over her blood soaked legs, he knew that there was no way he could leave her.
He’d never felt as helpless as he did in that moment, hovered over her unconscious body. A searing rage filled him, knowing that she’d been tortured and left for dead. He wanted to scream out in anger...wanted to hunt the bastard down, but he couldn’t do either. Saige needed him here. He dropped his forehead to hers while he gave in to his fear and anguish, letting his tears fall before they choked him.
“Don’t.” Her whispered word was so quiet he wasn’t sure he heard her. Quinten lifted his head and scanned her face for any sign of her waking. Her eyelids fluttered open for mere seconds before they closed again. He wanted and needed more from her. He needed something to tell him that she was still in there.
“Saige,” his tears choked him as he spoke. “You’re safe now. I won’t let anyone hurt you. I promise.” He caressed her face with frozen fingers, hardly noticing his own condition. “Saige, it’s me.” He softly kissed her lips and noticed that they’d started to turn blue with cold, and as that registered, he became aware of her pulse starting to slow.
Panic coursed through him and chased away his rage. Not knowing what else to do, he lay down beside her, and pulled her into his arms. “Please open your eyes. Don’t give up,” he begged. “I won’t let you...dammit, Saige. I love you, baby.” He wrapped himself around her, willing his warmth and his life into her.
She would make it. She had to. He tried to give her what strength he had left as he slipped off to sleep, thankful he found her in time before she met the same fate as the other five victims.