By JT Ellison
The countdown continues! Here’s another insider treat for you – a sneak peek at the first chapter of WHAT LIES BEHIND.
Sam is coming….
They’d drunk too much, gotten too loud, too boisterous. Mr. Smith’s kicked them out a few minutes past midnight, and they stumbled into the Georgetown night, dragged themselves up Wisconsin, and loped across M Street, tripping and clutching each other to stay upright, cackling hysterically, their heels an incoherent tattoo on the sidewalks. People watched them, their antics greeted with amusement or derision, depending on the mood of the observers.
“I can’t go on, I can’t. Stop, Emma, please, stop.”
Emma, ponytailed, blonde and lanky, fiddled with her tights with one hand, tugged on Cameron’s arm. “I gotta pee. We can’t stop now, Cam, it’s just a few more blocks.”
“My feet hurt. And my head.” Cameron slipped, landed hard against the plate-glass window of Starbucks. “Bump!” That set them off again, the giggles turning into guffaws.
Emma yanked on the door to the darkened store. “Nuts. They’re closed.”
“Why are they closed?” Cameron whined.
“`Cause it’s midnight. The witching hour. And you’re not a witch, you’re just a bitch. Tommy’s place is just ahead. Can you make it there?”
Cameron squeezed her eyes closed, chanting the rhyme under her breath. “Not a witch, just a bitch, not a witch, just a bitch.”
“You really are screwed up, aren’t you? Come on.” Emma dragged her to her feet, off down the darkened street.
Georgetown never truly sleeps. Even when the bars close, there are still people about—joggers, the ubiquitous construction workers, musicians and homeless, dog walkers and students, lovers and mistresses. A stew of incessant liveliness, perfect for the college-aged, and the cuckolded. The romantics and the hardened.
They made it a block before Cameron stopped dead. She grabbed Emma’s arm, nails digging into the soft flesh.
“Did you hear that?”
Emma strained, but one block up from M Street and two blocks over, all she heard was the tittering of the night birds and the whooshing of tires on pavement, maybe some faint, masked music. “Hear what?”
Cameron shook her head. “I thought I heard something. Someone shouted. I’m drunk. Where are we?”
Emma glanced at the sign on the corner. The numbers and letters weaved together. She shut one eye and the familiar N floated into range.
“We’re on N Street. One more block up. Come on already.”
They started off again. “How are you going to get in? I thought you two broke up. Didn’t he take back his key?”
“We’re not broken up. Just on a break. There’s a difference. He’s so busy now, with school and working. He just took on another new project. He needed some space. I understand.”
“Oh. I see. You understand why you’re not important to him anymore. Big of you.”
“Bitch.” But there was no heat behind the word.
She heard footsteps. Straightened in time to see a jogger cross the street in front of them, legs pounding out a steady rhythm. Chick could move. Emma wasn’t a runner. She played tennis, quite well, but the idea of running for the sake of running was boring to her. At least on the courts there was a tangible goal.
She realized she was alone, looked over her shoulder. Cameron had stopped again, was leaning woozily on a trash can.
“Come on,” Emma said, her tongue getting stuck on the words. She bit back a giggle and held out her hand. “We’re almost there.”
“Fooocuuuus, Cameron. Don’t make me leave you behind in the dark, all alone. Whooooo. Big nasty dark gonna eat you alive.”
Cameron flipped Emma the bird and stumbled back to her feet. “Lesgo.”
A car turned the corner, engine purring as it disappeared behind them. Now they were truly alone.
One block, turn right. Twenty steps more, then the basement apartment railing appeared on her left. Emma fished the key out of her bra. She’d known they were going to be drunk tonight. Thought a little booty call would be appropriate, even though she and Tommy had, in essence, broken up. Not because he didn’t dig her; he did, she knew it. It was just school was tough on him.
She knew Tommy would be home studying, late into the night, working on some random epithelial cell or DNA splicing theory, as he always seemed to be. Medical school was hard. Hell, undergrad was hard. Harder than she’d expected. Life was hard, too, especially for a pretty young thing with just enough smarts to make it into Georgetown, but maybe not quite enough to stay there. Her parents would freak if she failed out.
Tomorrow, I’ll stop drinking and partying and really study.
But for tonight, everyone needed to blow off some steam, get a little nookie. Sex was good for the brain. Raised the levels of oxytocin, serotonin, melatonin, all those tonins Tommy liked to talk about.
Emma shook her hair free of its ponytail so it would fall in a sultry mass about her shoulders, sloppily freshened her lip gloss, licked her lips and shot Cameron a look. Cam seemed like she was about to pass out. Her eyes were half-shut, the smile on her face dreamy and stupid.
Emma slipped as she went down the five stairs to Tommy’s front door. She grabbed the railing with both arms, clung on, the metal biting cruelly into her rib cage. She managed not to drop the key, but one sky-high platform peep-toe clattered toward the door, hitting it with a thump.
“Whoops,” she said, laughing. Cameron hooted like it was the best trick she’d ever seen.
Emma put a finger to her lips. “Shhh. God, you’re gonna wake the whole street.” She righted herself with dignity, squared her shoulders and put the key in the lock.
“Aren’t you going to knock?” Cameron asked.
“Why?” Emma replied, jiggling the key, then turning the knob. The door swung open into darkness.
“Darn it. He’s asleep,” Emma said, looking back over her shoulder. “Better be quiet, Cam. Can you be quiet?”
“Go in, for Chrissakes. I need a drink.”
Emma took off her other heel and stepped inside, the straps looped on her index finger. It was dark, so dark she couldn’t see anything. She ran her hand along the wall by the door, found the light switch. The lamp in the foyer cast its yellow glow into the hallway. Tommy’s bike was leaning against the wall. Careful not to knock it over, she pulled Cameron inside and shut the door. Made her way down the hall into the living room.
Turned on the light. Saw red, and it took a moment for reality to penetrate her margarita-fogged brain.
Blood, everywhere. The sofa, the floor, the wall by the two-seater bar.
Emma stood frozen, unable to move. Cameron was busy getting sick behind her, gagging and choking. Only then did the smell of the blood hit her, meaty and raw, like steaks left too long in the refrigerator, their surface shiny and green.
Want to run, want to hide, want to go away.
Something kept her rooted to the spot. “Tommy?” she called.
There was no answer.
“Stay here,” she told Cameron, an unnecessary direction. Cam was on her hands and knees, moaning, trying and failing to scrabble backward away from the living room and the vomit. She bumped up against the hallway wall and ducked her head into her hands, eyes squeezed tightly shut. She wasn’t going to be of any help.
Careful to avoid stepping in the blood, Emma moved along the edges of the living room. Tommy’s bedroom was down the hall. It was dark. There were no sounds but Cameron’s low keening, which sent shivers down Emma’s spine.
“Please,” she said, uncertain to whom the plea was directed. Please don’t let this be Tommy’s blood. Please don’t let him be hurt. Please don’t let him be dead. Please please please please please.
His door was shut. She steeled herself, took two deep breaths. The smell was worse here, tighter, fresher. Almost alive in its awfulness.
She opened the door, flipped on the light.
Over and over and over again.
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