A cunning killer hides in plain sight. A troubled teenage girl has been charged with the grisly murder of her stepfather. The evidence is damning: Emily was found alone at the scene with blood on her hands, and an incriminating e-mail she wrote outlines a murder plot identical to the method of the brutal slaying. But deputy district attorney Julia Chandler believes her niece is innocent, and she’s determined to keep the promise she made to protect her dead brother’s daughter–even if it means hiring private eye Connor Kincaid . . . the man who blames her for forcing his resignation from the police department. Together Julia and Connor uncover a chain of unsolved violent crimes tied to an unorthodox therapist whose anonymous online patients purge their anger by posting lethal fantasies. But someone in the group has turned vigilante, turning the game of virtual murder into a flesh-and-blood vendetta. After evil is seen, face your ultimate fear
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How would you kill him?
I don’t know.
Think about it. He hurt you. He made you touch him. He humiliated you. You must want him to pay.
Yeah, but . . .
You would never really kill him. I know that. But you need to get over your anger, release the rage. The only way to be free of him is to picture him without any power over you. Visualize the one person you hate the most in the world dead. Can you?
What does he look like?
He’s sitting at his desk.
And you walk in . . . what does he say to you?
“Come here. Kneel. Now.”
What do you do?
I go. I have no choice. They’ll send me away . . . I’ve lived on the streets. I’ve been to juvie. It’s worse than sucking his dick.
Picture yourself walking toward the desk. This time, you’re going to say no. This time, you’re going to pay him back for touching you. For making you touch him. How?
I want him to know exactly what it feels like.
I want to cut his dick off and shove it down his throat. Let him suck on it.
Good. Very good. Picture him choking on his penis whenever you get angry or upset. That’s the first step to getting rid of the rage, the anger. To heal and become normal.
I’ll never be normal.
Emily Chandler Montgomery would never be normal.
She sat in her idling Volkswagen Bug and stared at the looming house in front of her. She didn’t even want to pull into the garage, as if it would swallow her and she’d never escape. She hated coming home.
Home. What a joke. She had no home. It had disappeared when her father died. All she had was a house of many rooms, none of which welcomed her, except for her tiny sanctuary upstairs.
But where else could she go? She’d run away, and that hadn’t worked. Living on the streets was impossible, especially for a pampered, spoiled rich kid like her.
At least that’s what her shrink had told her.
And in many ways—most ways—it was true. She didn’t want to live on the street and sell her body. Because out there these were her choices: whore or gutter rat. Emily liked her bedroom, her spa, the Olympic-size swimming pool where she could swim laps until her arms ached and her lungs gasped for air. The clothes, the food, the roof.
If only Victor was gone, she could live in the castle without fear. Why had her mother married Judge Victor Montgomery? He was a creep back when they were dating, and he was worse now. A fake. A hypocrite.
I hate you I hate you I hate you!
She pounded her fists on the steering wheel until her hands ached. The rage circulating in her blood made her ears hot, her sight dim. She wanted to break something, but the words of her shrink battled against the anger.
Take a deep breath. Again. Let it out slowly. Focus on your calm place. Picture a blank canvas. Now paint your oasis, the place you feel safe. Paint that in the canvas of your mind. Put yourself there, in the picture.
Emily released the car’s clutch and slowly drove into the garage. She pretended she floated in the middle of the sea, nothing around her. The ocean was calm, peaceful, the water a brilliant blue, the sky orange, red, violet in the setting sun.
As Emily parked her car next to Victor’s Jaguar, her safe place disappeared. She held her keys in her hand and considered running them along the side of his precious sports car. But they’d know she did it and find a way to punish her. Make her spend another weekend in juvie. She could hear her mother’s cold, disapproving tone. “It’s for your own good, Emily. Your antics have embarrassed the family yet again.”
When you get angry, you let your enemies have control. Take a deep breath. Picture those who torment you getting what’s coming to them. Justice for you and everyone like you. Write about it. Talk about it. Get it out of your system. When you keep your feelings inside, anger wins. Your enemy wins.
Don’t let him win.
Emily took a deep breath, then another. Through the windows on the far side of the garage, the quality of light seemed to have changed. How long had she been sitting in her car? She looked at the time on the dashboard. Five-thirty? A full hour? That couldn’t be right.
She picked up her cell phone to check the time. Five-thirty.
This wasn’t the first time she’d worked on controlling the rage only to discover that she’d blanked out on the passage of time.
She grabbed her backpack and reluctantly left the safe haven of her Bug. It was Wednesday, which meant her mother would be home late. Wednesday, Wednesday . . . right, planning for her annual charity auction. This year it was puppies and kitties. Last year it was children. Every year a new cause, a cause that came first. A cause more important than her daughter.
The one year Emily thought her mother had actually cared was the year she raised money for runaway children. Spent time with her, but it was all for show. She had been the poster child. The tears and forgiveness were all an act. It was for the cameras and society page, and to help Judge Victor Montgomery win reelection.
Crystal Montgomery didn’t care about her daughter, and Emily had almost given up caring about that sad fact. But she couldn’t. She sometimes wondered if she’d ever really had a mom. Maybe the memories of them walking on the beach, playing with Barbies, making cookies was all a dream. Those good times seemed so far in the past that Emily wasn’t sure if she’d made up some of the details to get herself through the nights when her mother wasn’t home. To get through the days when Victor was.
Thirteen months and she would legally be able to walk out the door and live on her own. Her trust fund would be hers. She would no longer be dependent on her mother and Victor.
Thirteen months. She prayed she survived that long. It wasn’t that she was worried about Victor killing her. She feared her own hand.
She closed the large, overhead garage door with the remote and walked to the side door that led to a covered walk. Their house was huge, far bigger than the three of them needed, but Crystal and Victor entertained, and that meant they needed a big house with huge rooms to fill with people as phony as they.
It struck her as sad that when her dad had been alive the house hadn’t seemed as big and scary, even though she’d been smaller. And there’d only been the three of them then, too. But with her dad, everything was a game. They raced Matchbox cars down the long marble halls, played hide-and-seek in the maze of rooms, slid down the banister of the great center staircase.
The fun died with her dad.
Emily entered the house through the secondary entrance, the one Victor ordered the hired help to use. None of the outside doors used a key. That would be common. Emily typed in the security code on the keypad next to the door and the lock sprung. The atmo- sphere was cool, in both temperature and aesthetics. Her mother had the downstairs professionally redecorated every two years. Last year, she wanted the feeling of the ocean, everything in blues and greens. The sound system piped in canned ocean waves whenever her mother was home.
No music, no mother.
She waited for the intercom’s grating buzz, every cell in her body on alert. Victor was home, his Jaguar was in the garage. Of course he was home, it was Wednesday. Her mother was gone, the housekeeping staff had the night off, and Emily had to be home. Every day by six p.m. by order of the court.
Damn curfew. Damn the police. Damn the whole fucking system.
And damn her for being so stupid. Vandalizing the courthouse. What had she been thinking? Of course, she hadn’t been. Just like when she’d run away. All emotions, no plan. Emily couldn’t see anything beyond her anger. And she was paying for it now. Maybe she deserved it.
The intercom didn’t beep, her stepdad didn’t summon her to his office. She slipped off her sandals to tread soundlessly across the marble floors. Slowly, she walked down the long, wide hall to the center foyer, waiting for the telltale click of the intercom and Judge Montgomery’s deep and disgusting voice.
Emily, please come to my office.
Maybe he was on the phone. Maybe he hadn’t been watching the security system and was unaware she’d come home. Maybe he’d hung himself. She could only hope.
She started up the grand staircase, her heart racing. As Emily ascended, she began to run. Free. She was free. She’d lock herself in her room, because he didn’t dare come after her in there. It was always his office, his desk. His domain.
She closed and locked the door behind her, grinning. She leaped onto her bed and jumped up and down like a little kid. Then she went into her bathroom and started the water in her bathtub. Hot, with bubbles.
She wasn’t supposed to drink. In addition to being underage, it was a term of her plea bargain last year since she’d been intoxicated when she’d vandalized the courthouse. But she had a flask of dark rum hidden in her dresser, which she refilled periodically from Victor’s bar.
She had to have something to wash the foul taste of him out of her mouth and mind.
Now she drank in celebration. Locked in her room. Alone. At peace.
Downstairs, Victor Montgomery sat in his desk chair, dead, his bloody body horribly mutilated.