Four people. Two bodies. One nightmare.
The day Tracy Seavers dies, Detective John Peters arrives on the scene of the car accident to find she has miraculously walked away. An impossible conclusion, had the same thing not happened to him five years before. John suspects Tracy is now host to an alien entity with incredible healing power, and sometimes sinister needs.
John wants Tracy almost as much as the entity inside him yearns for the new alien hiding within the beautiful brunette. The last time John got involved with another host, though, it ended in disaster. So Tracy is off-limits, no matter how much he and his entity want to wrap themselves around her. Instead, he throws himself into the ultimate distraction: finding the serial killer stalking their town.
When both John and Tracy start having blackouts, and new evidence points to an entity as the killer, John has to admit that now even he is a suspect; and the only other alien in town lives inside Tracy. Unless he can find another.
The South Jersey Slasher strikes again tonight. The clock is ticking—and Tracy is missing. Again.
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Detective John Peters squatted beside a bloodstained patch of sand. He tuned out the news helicopters circling the bridge overhead. The overturned tractor-trailer and the smashed blue sedan straddling the guardrail above would make for a decent headline, but they always wanted more. He could feel their cameras zooming in, looking for the body they’d been promised. But deceased accident victim, Tracy Seavers, was no longer there.
“Dead girls don’t just get up and walk away.” The off-duty EMT, first on-scene, folded his arms. “I’m telling you, that girl was lightyears past CPR.”
The odor of diesel engines carried on the late-summer breeze as another firetruck arrived on the bridge. Circumventing the body’s last known location, John blotted out the noise and concentrated on the conundrum at hand.
“There was nothing I could do for her.” The EMT shaded his eyes, squinting at the collision scene above. “I heard the other girl screaming, so I climbed the hill to see if I could help.”
John nodded. The roommate, Laini Hanson, was damn lucky she’d stayed in the car. Too bad Seavers hadn’t done the same.
He crouched in the space between the impact-site and a pink, size-nine loafer lying sideways in the sand. A trail of footprints led into the trees where a few uniformed officers directed doe-eyed interns on search and rescue procedures.
John sighed, surveying the reckless clusters of college students as they left holes in their search patterns any seven-year-old could avoid. If they hunted for their keys like they searched for a missing person, they’d never get out of their goddamn houses in the morning. But he couldn’t be particular about personnel when there were so few cops left in the district.
The detective in him hoped one of them would shout they’d found the girl. That’s what every cop wanted: a clean wrap-up. But this wasn’t going to be so simple, especially with this team.
John walked beside the prints: one foot bare, the other displaying the zig-zag pattern of the lost pink loafer. The steps were narrow, the un-shoed foot dragging with a possible limp. He glanced up to the bridge, where a tow truck started to haul the sedan off the guardrail.
The EMT was right. Chances were slim Seavers survived a twenty-six-foot fall, especially after being hit head-on by an eighteen-wheeler. But if the woman hadn’t walked away on her own, someone had taken a great deal of effort to make it look like she had.
His phone vibrated. John glanced down at the screen. He only followed one informational feed—the one he wasn’t supposed to have access to. The message wasn’t much of a surprise.
PAC Southern NJ.
Live accident scene intersection of 295 and Locust.
Police/News. File 39740. Code One.
John gritted his teeth, wishing he could get his hands on File 39740, but unless he gave up being a detective and joined the FBI, an all-access pass to government secrets wasn’t coming any time soon. The only certainty was federal agents were on their way.
His gaze returned to the EMT as John slipped the phone back into his jacket pocket. This guy’s testimony didn’t matter anymore. Tracy Seavers’s disappearance wasn’t a crime or even an elaborate hoax. This…this was something else.
And now it was a race to see who’d find Tracy Seavers first.
John moved toward the trees as his partner, Art, dismissed the EMT. The breeze shifted the canopy, casting spotty shadows over the teams mulling through the brush. Their search patterns were too concentrated. Yes, Seavers was hurt, but she had a head start on them. They needed to move deeper into the woods.
Art jogged up alongside him. A shirttail had come untucked from his pants. “We joining the search already? You don’t want to grill anyone first?”
John shook his head. “Saw everything I needed to see.”
“So, you think someone took her body?”
Someone definitely took her body. The question was, where did they go with it?
The roiling in his chest quickened.
Calm down. She couldn’t have gotten far. We’ll find her.
John stopped walking and rubbed his chin as two canine squads entered the woods. The dogs lowered their tails and walked in circles. One barked and headed into the forest before stopping and spinning around a tree. It was going to be a long day for those guys. Like the EMT pointed out, Dead girls don’t just get up and walk away.
The guy had no idea how right he’d been.
John drew in a deep breath and expelled it slowly, soothing his disquiet.
This had happened before. Once. Five years ago.
But that time, John had been the dead person who got up and walked away.
The normally soothing sound of the evening crickets cut through the night, louder than they’d ever been. Pushing damp, matted brown hair from her eyes, Tracy Seavers’s vision cleared as she limped up her porch steps.
She squinted, shielding her eyes from the entry light as a wave of nausea hit. What in God’s name was wrong with her? She covered her mouth and breathed deeply through her nose until it passed.
She didn’t have time to be sick. With McNulty breathing down her neck every day, she’d barely had any time to prepare for her interview on Thursday. She’d be damned if she was going to let another promotion slip through her fingers.
Taking three more deep breaths, she steadied herself and drew the keys from her pocket, but the deadbolt fuzzed and shifted. Grabbing the chamber with her left hand, she scraped the hole three times before the key glided into the lock. She’d opened this door a million times. It shouldn’t be so hard, no matter how out-of-it she was.
A shooting pain lanced her hip as she stepped over the threshold and dropped her jacket and keys on the floor. Being home should have been settling, but the hallway seemed to close in, stifling her.
McNulty had coughed when he leaned into her office yesterday. If that asshole gave her the flu, she was going to make his life a living hell when she got back to work.
Hazarding another step, Tracy eased her bare foot to the floor. Her legs ached worse than any workout on the treadmill. It seemed like she’d been walking for hours. Days. But where had she been, and how had she lost a shoe?
She rubbed her eyes. Remembering shouldn’t be hard. She just needed to focus.
She’d gone to work. That’s where she’d been. But she had no idea how she got home.
Pulling her hand from her face, she grimaced. The coppery tinge of what looked like dried blood came into focus, and the folds of her shirt were caked in mud. Maybe she’d gotten into it with McNulty in the parking lot—gave that prick the whooping he deserved.
She stumbled forward, her head spinning. “Jesus!” She grabbed the table in the entryway until her legs stopped tingling.
The pendulum of the grandmother clock in the hallway ticked in answer.
Maybe she should call Jason. He could come and sit with her for a while, until whatever this was passed. Was that too much to ask of a guy when they’d only been on four dates?
She wiped the dampness from her forehead. If she were smart, she’d have him take her straight to the doctor. She patted down her pockets, not finding her phone. Shit. She probably left it on the table in her rush to get out to work this morning.
Tracy staggered into the kitchen, leaning on the walls. She limped toward the dinette, hitting the flashing play button on the answering machine as she passed. Maybe she should just go to bed and hope for a do-over tomorrow.
She slipped into a chair and rested her head on the kitchen table as the machine announced: “Tuesday, August 29th.”
“Hey, baby, it’s Mom.”
As if anyone else would call on the landline. Mom had bought that machine for them so she could leave messages when Tracy wasn’t home. Laini didn’t even know how to work the damn thing.
“Just reminding you about tomorrow. Don’t you dare try to get out of your birthday breakfast. I’ll be there at six to start cooking. Tell Laini she’s welcome, too.”
Laini would be so disappointed if they had to postpone Tracy’s birthday celebration. It was one of the few times in the year when they ate breakfast that didn’t come out of a box. But right now, Tracy didn’t think she’d be able to keep a glass of water down, let alone, a three-course meal.
“See you in the morning,” her mom’s voice continued, fading into another beep.
“Tuesday, August 29th ,” the machine announced again.
“Hey, Tracy.” The male voice startled her.
She lifted her head and stared at the machine. Jason? A long pause hung in the air. Why hadn’t he called her cell?
“Listen,” he continued. “It’s like this. It’s been fun and everything, but, umm, I-I don’t think this is working out. So, umm, yeah. That’s it. Sorry.” He puffed out a breath. “Oh, umm, happy birthday, I guess.” He whispered something that sounded like “idiot” before he hung up.
The beep at the end of the message dragged on longer than usual as a solid weight balled in her stomach. Did that asshole purposely call a number he knew Tracy wouldn’t answer to avoid dumping her in person?
She groaned, ignoring the ache as her nails dug into a layer of dirt caked in her scalp. Saturday they’d had dinner, laughed, and gone back to his place for the night. What had gone wrong? She rubbed the back of her neck and cringed, hitting a new sore spot. Another goddamn birthday without a date. Why couldn’t she ever get a break?
The machine beeped again. “Monday, September 4th.”
Tracy blinked twice. September fourth? Was the machine broken or something?
“Laini?” Mom’s voice broadcast from the speaker. She sniffed like she’d been crying. “Laini, please pick up the phone. It’s Carole.” Tracy straightened. “Laini, please…” The message cut off. Laini must have answered.
No. It was August 29th. Tomorrow was Tracy’s Birthday.
The machine clicked off.
The date didn’t matter. Mom had been crying. Tracy needed to find out what was wrong.
She rifled through the unopened mail on the table, looking for her cell phone. Dammit! She didn’t even know her mother’s number to call her back without her cell. Moving another stack of envelopes, the edge of a newspaper caught her attention.
When was the last time they’d had a newspaper in the house?
Tracy pulled the paper out from under the mail, and her eyes widened over a photo of herself on the front page. It was the publicity shot for her volunteer work at the animal shelter last year. Her gaze flicked to the caption:
Body of Thirty-Year-Old Woman Still Missing.
Body? That had to be the misprint of the century. Laini must have peed herself laughing and grabbed a copy. She probably planned on framing it.
Tracy skimmed to the date, and she nearly dropped the paper.
She closed her eyes, forcing herself to breathe. How could it say September fifth? She pressed her temples. No. It was impossible. She couldn’t have lost a week of her life. Where had she been? And why was she so sore?
She stood and the room spun, slamming her back onto the chair. The sound of breaks squealing echoed through her mind, followed by a sickening crunch. The taste of dirt and a sticky, coppery goo filled her mouth. Bile rose from her gut as the room skewed again. She grabbed her stomach and heaved. The world became a swirl of blue and white, then brown and muddy yellow. A pounding drummed her ears.
Clawing at the table, she breathed deeply, scrunching her eyes closed until the nausea passed. Her vision cleared, but a dull hum droned through her mind, as if a dense fog hung in the kitchen, forcing all sound inward.
Whatever this was, she shouldn’t be alone. She needed help. Fast.
Focusing on the landline beside the refrigerator, Tracy drew herself up slowly, continuing her steady breaths. She could make it to the phone if she…
The front door opened with a squeak.
“What the hell?” Laini’s voice carried from the foyer.
Thank God she was finally home!
“Laini?” Tracy’s call came out in a whisper as the pounding behind her eyes deepened. She rubbed her forehead, trying to stop the pain, but it only got worse. Forcing herself from the kitchen, she stumbled down the hallway.
Laini stood by the front door, staring at Tracy’s jacket on the ground.
Her roommate stepped back, eyes wide. A Starbuck’s cup fell from her grasp and crashed to the floor. The contents spilled across the hardwood. Her lips formed an ‘O’ as she stood, frozen and staring.
Tracy clutched the wall behind her. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Her roommate’s lips contorted, forming several words, but no sound left her mouth. Her cheeks paled.
Tracy slipped to the ground. Her hand fell on her leg, landing on a foot-long tear in her pants with a matching crusted scab beneath. “W-what?” She stared at the grime still coating her hands. “What happened to me?”
“Tracy?” Laini took short, clipped breaths. Her eyes filled with tears. “You’re…not…but you…”
Slipping the rest of the way to the floor, Tracy reached out to her friend. The pounding intensified, blocking all other sound. The world pressed in, making it hard to breathe. Why didn’t Laini help her?
The door crashed open and Laini ducked, holding her head as three men in riot gear stormed into the foyer. She screamed as one of them pointed a gun at her before centering the weapon on Tracy.
“Wh-what?” Tracy held her head down as the men shouted to each other. Black boots stopped inches from Tracy’s face before a firm grip hauled her up like a rag doll. Pain lanced her skin from all angles.
One of the men talked into his shoulder. “We’ve secured the P.A.C. Prepare for transport.” He handed a syringe to someone standing behind her.
Transport? “Wait,” Tracy whispered.
Something pinched her neck and a burn crept through her skin. “What? Why? Who are you?”
“That’s my friend!” Laini jumped to her feet. “Where are you taking her?”
Two men dragged Tracy out the door and carried her toward a black van.
“What do you mean she’s been exposed to something?” Laini’s voice blared through the evening sky as Tracy’s world faded to nothing.
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