Excerpt from Freefall: Detective and High School Sweetheart

free fall

The first thing that Phoebe felt aware of was a blinding headache. Her mind spun and spun and spun while a loud pounding sounded in her ears. But that’s when the cold set in. Freezing. Cold. Everything.

She attempted to open her eyes, but all she could make sense of was a light that appeared to be the beginning of dawn, and everything else looked blurry.

Very quickly, Phoebe tried to stand up, but she felt so disoriented that she just ended up falling back over, immediately being drenched in some kind of water. Where was she? Better yet? Why did water soak her legs?

Phoebe attempted to open her eyes again, and even though the whole world spun sickeningly around her, she could finally make out her surroundings. Trees. Hills. A river. The river was what soaked her feet. How did she get here?

Her mind still spun in waves as she got back to her feet, this time reorienting herself upright. Oh, wait. Nope…

She fell back over, her knees scraping against sharp rocks, and this time, she just sat for a couple minutes, trying to get her head to stop reeling. She needed to focus. Where was she? How did she get here?

Everything spun in circles for another good minute, threatening to make her pitch forward once again, but her mind became clearer by the minute. She still didn’t know where she was…

Phoebe attempted to take a step backward, but then her eyes widened as she found that she was restrained, her hands bound by a thick rope that held her fastened to a large tree that had fallen in the middle of the river. The tree itself looked to be hundreds of pounds. Could she even move it if she tried? She still felt so disoriented that she couldn’t tell where the rope around her wrists started and where it ended. Gosh, how did she get here?!

“Don’t ask me how I did that,” a voice sounded behind her. “I don’t think I’ll be able to do it again.”

Phoebe spun around quickly but then had to squint against the rising sun that stared back at her. She tried to jerk her hands away once again, but only then did she see exactly how trapped she was. The rope fastened around her wrists wove intricately around the trunk of the tree, lacing around several branches.

Glancing back at the man, Phoebe took a deep breath, trying to remember what exactly happened to her in the last twenty-four hours. She remembered leaving the police station and then…

Her eyes widened as she glanced back at the man who spoke earlier, taking him in with fresh eyes. She remembered seeing him from Hannah’s pictures. Blue eyes, blonde hair. Riley Sudder. She remembered now… That was Riley Sudder.

“What are you doing with me?” Phoebe asked, her words slurred. If this was what it felt like to be drugged, she certainly didn’t like it. But that would explain why she couldn’t quite gather her bearings. “Why did you take me here?”

Riley perched on top of another fallen tree, staring at her with his cold blue, amused eyes. “You know, I debated for so long how I should kill you. I wanted to do something different this time. I already drugged Hannah. I threw Stella off a bridge. I killed Jessica in a way to make it look like a bear attack, and stabbed Cameron with a pitchfork. But you already knew all that. I’ve been watching you. I tried to get you to come into the washer room back at your parents’ house by dragging my knife along the washer, but you didn’t take the bait. Oh, it’s been hard to be patient, but I’ve been watching you, and I’ve decided that you’re perfect for my next canvas.”

Phoebe blinked hard, trying to get Riley into better focus. “Why did you kill everyone?” she asked. “Why did you kill Hannah? What did she ever do to you?”

He hopped down from where he sat on the log and started circling her like a predator ready to strike. “Hannah’s skin was so perfect, so beautiful. I wanted to paint it red.”

Chills rushed down Phoebe’s spine as she realized just how much of a psychopath this guy was. “But you only poisoned her. There was no blood involved.”

“I didn’t get the chance. The cops got to her before I did.”

Nothing made sense. Trying to get into the mind of a serial killer was much harder than she had expected it to be. Either that or the drugs were still in full effect and she couldn’t wrap her mind around what was going on.

“Why did you kill everyone else then?

Riley just grinned, leaving her question unanswered. “I’m feeling a different color for you. Perhaps… Blue?”

Phoebe’s heart pounded in fear as she glanced down at her legs. The river she stood in already came up to her knees, but she still had a pretty good idea what he meant. If this guy got his way, she would drown.

He reached over and stroked the side of Phoebe’s cheek with the back of his fingers, looking at her skin longingly, sending a shiver down her spine. “I look forward to seeing your face in the news. Goodbye, Detective.”

When he started walking away, Phoebe couldn’t help but furrow her eyebrows in confusion. That was it? A little bit of rope and water? She had expected a little bit more from this guy.

That’s when she heard a loud cracking noise echoing through the whole valley like thunder, her eyes widening in horror as her gaze followed the path of the river starting from her feet, toward a small waterfall, and up to a dam that loomed up ahead. The dam had just cracked a sliver, water already gushing down toward her. The trickle of water started out slow, but then it got faster and faster, covering her thighs and slowly working its way up to her stomach.

As hard as she could, Phoebe pulled and pulled at the ropes, but through the drugs that still continued to make her feel hazy and weak, her efforts landed her nowhere. It soon got to the point where she couldn’t even see her hands anymore because the water just continued to climb higher and higher and…

Finally finding her voice, Phoebe let out a high-pitched scream, doing everything she could to try to free herself. She propped her feet against the trunk of the tree to use as leverage, pulling with all her might, but the only thing she managed to do was chafe her wrists as the rope dug into her skin.

The dam cracked again, causing an incredible amount of fear to shoot through Phoebe’s heart. She took a deep breath and plunged beneath the water, trying to squeeze her hands out of the ropes, but her movements were weak and slow. No matter how much adrenaline shot through her, she couldn’t push the drugs out of her system. Phoebe felt like a captive, not only from her bindings but also because of the drugs that took a hold of her body.

When she resurfaced, Phoebe gasped a lungful of air, glancing around wildly for anyone or anything, but she found nothing. Nothing at all. She had no idea where she was, only that if that dam broke all the way, she’d die. But even if it didn’t break all the way, she’d still die.

A wave of water washed over her, causing her to let out a shriek of panic as the cold rush engulfed her chest, slowly working its way up to her neck. She screamed again, but her screams were silenced as the water rushed over her head.

Phoebe tried not to panic, but it was already too late for that. Somehow, she managed to step up onto the log, giving her another foot of space to figure out what she was going to do. If she didn’t think of something soon, then her skin would indeed be painted blue.

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