Mari Gill wakes to horror in a strange apartment next to a murdered man, and can't remember the night before. Accused of murder, she feels torn between her husband, a successful defense attorney, and a mysterious, kind man who wants to help. Can she trust either of them - or even her friends? Detective Kerri Blasco battles her police bosses believing Mari is innocent...but is she?
That was the first thing to trouble her, still clinging to the safe, solid darkness of sleep. Next came pain in her head, a different kind of pain from the other thing, so she squeezed her eyes shut, dreading the day…
…but the stickiness bothered.
Involuntarily, she felt her fingers open and close.
Something was wrong there, in her hand. She squinted open; peered at it.
Her palm was smeared dark red.
She blinked. Saw more red smear on her forearm, then the torn cap sleeve of last night’s black dress, then the sheet under her arm, stained with…
“Huh?” Her eyes grew wide before her mind processed it.
Thrashing onto her back, Mari saw bloodied sheet reaching halfway up the torn front of her dress, and then saw an arm. A man’s arm, faintly blue and blood-smeared – and with a cry her whole body practically flipped from the bed. “Oh God!”
She hit the floor hard and then scrabbled back up, gaped wildly and saw him. Her shocked vision jumped and saw two then one then two of him on his back, eyes closed, mouth open dribbling caked blood. She froze; gasped. Couldn’t take in air seeing his black hair, his chest hidden under a tent of bloodied sheet.
A high, involuntary whisper. Mari’s heart rocketed but she felt compelled; jerked out a hand and pulled away the sheet.
Under it a knife, its handle long and black, protruding from his chest.
“Oh God!” Her scream got it out but used up breath as she spun on her knees, recognizing the new trouble. Where was her handbag? What was this place? Who was that guy?
Her bag, her bag…she crawled over hardwood and a man’s flung jacket and hit a cold, metal pole. Something crashed down on her, crashed to the floor but she crawled more, over broken shards with her breath coming harder, wheezing high like a small, dying animal.
Where, where…? She gasped and scrabbled.
Her bag, way under a desk. How could it be under a desk? She was always so careful to keep it close but no time to think, she was upon it, fingers fluttering getting it open, her cries a child’s high mewling as she dug past her phone – no time to call - found her inhaler, got her fingers around it then saw it fly from her and skitter through an open doorway.
Wheezing harder she crawled toward it, the little white plastic thing that meant life or death to her. Her chest heaved, and heaved again. Her vision blurred and she couldn’t pull in air. She made it through the door onto a wider floor, was inches away with her hand reaching desperately.
Then her vision darkened and she collapsed, crying; lay her cheek down on the polished cold hardwood. From far away she heard a crash. Her eyes closed. She lay, her fingers stretched futilely toward the inhaler. Her desperate wheezing stopped.
Running feet. Someone’s hands on her, strong hands. “Lady! Omigod, lady!”
From deepest, dying sleep she felt herself raised up; heard a voice, urgent, telling her to breathe, breathe - “Please, lady!”
She felt hard plastic pushed through her lips. Felt the little blast of life, then a man’s warm stubble press his lips on hers. He was breathing her. Two good breaths and then holding her, rocking her.
Her eyes stayed closed as she heard him call 9-1-1…
J.A. (Joyce Anne) Schneider is a former staffer at Newsweek Magazine, a wife, mom, and reading addict. She loves thrillers…which may seem odd, since she was once a major in French Literature - wonderful but sometimes heavy stuff. Now, for years, she has become increasingly fascinated with medicine, forensic science, and police procedure. Decades of being married to a physician who loves explaining medical concepts and reliving his experiences means there’ll often be medical angles even in “regular” thrillers that she writes. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.