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RELEASE DAY BLITZ ~ Ripple Effect, Episode 4 by Keri Lake

 

 

 


From the author of Ricochet and Backfire comes a dark erotic suspense serial …


Episode Four: With every cause, there’s an effect, and Ripley will do everything in his power to keep Dylan safe. To hell with the consequences.

Series Synopsis:

Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex



 

Dylan

“Look, I know it doesn’t mean anything to you.  I get that you don’t like the hero stuff.  But I really do appreciate what you did.”  I run my finger along his perfectly trimmed hairline and bend forward to kiss the back of his neck.  I can’t help it.  It’s the first time I’ve attempted affection since his accusation.
He doesn’t react at all.  Doesn’t even look at me, and I’m at a complete loss for how to crack this man.  There are times I feel I’ve touched his soul, only to find I’ve not even breached his skin.  
His lack of reaction to me is nothing short of embarrassing—rejection of the worst kind, because I’ve tacked it on to a pathetic gesture of thanks.
“Forget it.”  I step past him and feel a hard grip of my arm that spins me right the hell around.  Twisting my wrist is a fruitless effort in his steel grip, and in spite of my resistance, he pulls me back into him, until I fall awkwardly straddling his lap.  I slide back on his legs, and he yanks me forward by my wrists, until I’m fully aware of what must be one hell of a painful bulge between us.  “This isn’t easy for me, you know?  Showing my gratitude.  I’m not used to this shit.  And you make it … impossible!”
“I don’t need your fucking gratitude, Dylan.  It was a job, okay?”
“I’m just a job to you?”  I can’t even believe I’m talking aloud, saying this shit like something straight out of an angsty teen movie, but he’s got me so pissed I can’t help myself.  The words continue to fall in all their cringe-worthy glory.  “That’s it?  You didn’t give a shit, right?  You’d have let those bastards use and abuse me right there? Rook wanted to fuck me with a pair of pliers.  Did you know that?”  The tic of his eye and the clench of his jaw tell me I’ve hit a nerve, and still my mouth won’t quit.  “Is that what gets you off, Ripley?  Are you such a sadistic bastard, so goddamn hell-bent on pain you’d have let that happen?”
His brows come together at the same time he grips my jaw, and for the first time in the last hour, I see something flicker across his face—pain, anger, I can’t tell, but it’s better than the stoic expression he’s been wearing.  “I’ve killed him a million times in my mind for touching you, Dylan.  You’re having trouble showing gratitude?  I’m having a fuck of a time playing the good guy here.  I don’t save people, sweetheart.  I kill them.  In brutally violent ways, but last night …” His lips form a hard line, brows stern.  “I would’ve taken every bruise they put on your body.  Every punch for you.  Only for you.  Seeing you laid out like that flipped my fucking switch, and I lost control.”



 



$25 Amazon Gift Card
&
Keri Lake Swag Pack

Click HERE to enter




Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.


For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter

 



 

BLOG TOUR ~ Ripple Effect (Episode 3) by Keri Lake

 

 

 


From the author of Ricochet and Backfire comes a dark erotic suspense serial …


Episode Three: In the underbelly, trust is everything, and Dylan will soon discover that Ripley trusts no one. With the return of an old threat, loyalty is on the line, and betrayal could mean the end of everything for both of them.

Series Synopsis:

Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex

 


 

Dylan

“I trust no one, Dylan.  The sooner you accept that the easier this will be for you.”
“The easier what will be?”  I glare at him, studying the sharp, unyielding lines of his face as he stares out the windshield.  “Say it.  I want to hear you say it.”
“The fuck do you want from me?”
“Your honesty.  Do you want me to stay?  Or should we part ways here?”
“Honesty?  It’s your honesty that’s in question.”  The lines from before somehow turn impassive and completely devoid of reaction.  “I promised you twenty grand.  I like to keep my promises.”
“You’re an asshole, Ripley.”  When I open the door, a harsh grip of my arm tugs me back, but I twist out of it and stumble from the car into the thin layer of snow.
I push to my feet and tromp off with a wet ass.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The hint of boredom in his voice grates me even more, and all I can do is flip him off.  
I need a place to go.  Somewhere to get away, so I can reel myself in without his taunting.  I want to be as cool and detached as he is, so I’m not wearing all this damn emotion for him to smother my face in, but the second the headlights flip behind me, I know I won’t get far.
“Get in the car, Dylan.”  He’s driving beside me, one hand on the wheel, the other stroking his chin and I have to look away, because as sexy as he looks, all leaned to the side and chill, he’s still a bastard. A confusing, sadistic bastard who’s probably hoping I break down and cry so he can lick the tears off my face and laugh.
“Go.  To.  Hell.”  I hate myself.  Every word that drips from my mouth screams pouty, eighteen-year-old brat—all the things I try desperately not to be.  But damn it, the man pissed me off.  Again.  
The car stops and my heart kicks up to oh shit.  I up my pace, trying not to run across the slick snow and risk falling, but the moment the door slams shut, I know I’m screwed.
He loves this.  This cat and mouse game between us.  I dare say it’s why he behaves the way he does, and even though I’m smart enough to read between his lines, I’m tired of the games with him.  The hot and cold and seclusion.  I’m tired of being the only one who doesn’t know what the hell is going on.
I didn’t betray him, and that I have to keep proving that fact irritates the shit out of me.
At the crunch of his boots behind me, I up my pace to a jog and in the next breath, I face-plant the snow.  My body is yanked backward and he flips me onto my back as if I’m nothing but a ragdoll.  
On instinct, I kick out at him, but he ignores my pathetic fight and climbs atop of me, straddling my body, pinning my arms into the cold snow.  
“If you don’t get off of me,” I growl, squirming in his grasp, “I’m going to scream.”
“Scream.”  He’s taunting me, I can see it in his eyes that don’t so much as flinch with my fight.  “Scream loud.  Scream until your voice gives out.  Scream until the whole city can hear you.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?  You’re nothing but a sadist.  A torture-loving bastard!”
“I haven’t begun to torture you, sweetheart.  But after this little stunt, you’re gonna wish you’d have just gotten into that fucking car.”
“I hate you.  I really truly hate you.”
“No you don’t.  You wish you hated me.  Just like I wish I hated you.”  He pushes a strand of hair behind my ear and for the first time tonight, his furious eyes soften.

 



 

 



$25 Amazon Gift Card
&
Keri Lake Swag Pack

Click
HERE to enter



Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.

For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter

 

 



 

RELEASE BLITZ ~ Ripple Effect (Episode 3) by Keri Lake


From the author of Ricochet and Backfire comes a dark erotic suspense serial …


Episode Three:
In the underbelly, trust is everything, and Dylan will soon discover that Ripley trusts no one.
With the return of an old threat, loyalty is on the line, and betrayal could mean the end of everything for both of them.


Series Synopsis:

Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex

 
I sit on the edge of the bathtub, breathing through my nose to keep from throwing up whatever’s left in my stomach.  An incessant tremble runs beneath my skin, stirring up nausea in my gut.  
“It just … came out of nowhere.  I felt sick.”  The glass of water passed to me diverts my attention, and I glance up at Ripley’s massive form looming over me, arms crossed.  “That smell.  Something about the smell on your hands.”
“Bleach.”
“Were you cleaning something?”  I take a small sip of the water, nervous that I might not be able to keep it from coming back up.
“Blood,” is all he says, as if I’m not supposed to ask.
To hell with that.  I’d rather talk about what he did than focus on my embarrassment, because I have no explanation for why I freaked out.
“Your blood?”
“No.”
“I could really use the distraction right now.”  Dropping my shoulders, I sigh.  “Humor me?”
His jaw shifts, and maybe I wasn’t supposed to ask him about his work.  Maybe it’s all classified or the hitman equivalent. Whatever.  I know Ripley’s not a good man.  That he does bad things. But I’ve come to the understanding that no one in the underbelly is good.  So I really don’t give a shit if I’m not supposed to ask.
“I killed a man.”  His eyes are trained on me—one blue and one hazel, neither of them so much as flinching with his confession.
“How?”  
The line of tension that stiffens his shoulders sags, and he smiles down at me.  “Is that where we’re at now, Bandit?  You’re so comfortable around me to ask the details of my kills?”
“You don’t have to give me details.”  I don’t even realize I’m fidgeting until I look down to see the red streak where I’ve scratched my knuckles.
“Shot him.  Square in the skull.”
I keep my gaze glued to my hands, imagining the scenario.  Ripley’s big menacing body standing over the man who begs for his life.  Horrible.  Yet somehow it takes me away from whatever nightmare I suffered moments ago. “Did you burn him with acid?”
“No. He was a merciful kill.”
“Merciful?  Are any of them worth mercy?”  The sneer in my voice takes me by surprise and tipping my head back, I just catch the shake of his head.  “If you were going to kill me, how would you do it?”
Ignoring my question, he jerks his head toward the glass of water in my hand.  “Are you feeling better?”
My cheeks warm with embarrassment, and I’m glad he doesn’t answer.  It was a stupid question.  “Yeah.  It went away.”
“What exactly was it?”
The nervous vibration still skitters along my bones, but I shrug.  “I wish I knew. Ripley?  Are you going to throw me out?”
“Why are you asking that?”
“Because you’ve … not asked me for anything. Is the deal off?”  I lodge my fingers though my hair, gripping tight to my skull.  Teetering on the line of sobriety has fucked with my head and I’ve become deathly afraid of what I’d do for those pills outside of these walls. “I know I screwed up with the drugs.  And I wasn’t … I didn’t want to steal from you.  But I can’t go back on the streets.  I can’t. I already know I’ll die out there. I don’t know what was up with the bleach, but it has nothing to do with drugs. I promise.”
A good ten seconds of silence follows before he says, “Deal’s not over yet.”





$25 Amazon Gift Card
&
Keri Lake Swag Pack

Click
HERE to enter



Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.

For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter: 

 

 



 

BLOG TOUR ~ Ripple Effect (Episode 2) by Keri Lake

 

 

 


EPISODE TWO: As a calculated assassin, Ripley thrives on always being in control. But when the woman he’s sworn to kill makes an offer he can’t refuse, his control is what he risks losing most.

 

Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex.

 



I open my eyes to the sting of sterile scents, like disinfectant and alcohol. A quick scan of my surroundings shows crisp white sheets, the cool fabric brushing against my legs—my bare legs. The dripping of water from before pounds louder, without the chasing echo. Scents. Sounds. Touch. As if my body has turned into a sharper frequency, everything around me seems more alive. More intense.
  Attached to my left arm is an IV whose tube connects to a bag labeled saline, hanging off a hook sticking out from the wall. Two white patches are stuck to my arm, and I can’t begin to imagine what the hell they are. Maybe he mutilated me? What the hell is this guy, a doctor?
  The stabbing pain from before has dulled to an ache of intense hunger or the craving of pills, I can’t discern. Nausea still grips me the same way it had when I drank too much cinnamon liquor one night and ended up at the side of the toilet with my sugar crashing. I’m not a diabetic or anything, but I remember Chanel gave me a glass of orange soda and the jitters disappeared. I feel cool and sweaty at the same time, clammy and exhausted.
  I stare down at myself, noticing a thin white shirt. My bra has been removed along with my panties, leaving me naked beneath the oversized garment that must belong to my captor. The heavy comforter, far too elegant and plush for the mattress on which I’m lying, covers only my ankles, as if I’d kicked it off. Or someone else had.
  What did he do while I was out?
  I perform a quick mental rundown, only remembering flashes of the bathtub, which I’m certain was nothing but a dream. From my fingers to my toes, I concentrate on any pain. Wriggling my toes doesn’t point out a weird absence of one, flexing my calves, thighs, nothing. I attempt to pull my knees together, testing whether or not it produces an ache that might suggest he’d raped me, but chains keep me from crossing my legs.
  In my pathetic assessment, I find there’s no damage, nothing to suggest mutilation of any sort. And no evidence of blood on the sheets.
  With my arms still bound, I turn to the faint musky scent on my skin and breathe in the clean aroma. He did bathe me.
  He. Rip.
  His name loops over and over inside my head in some desperate bid for my conscious half to hang on to it. As if I’d forget the name of the killer who tied me to a wall in his dark and dingy basement.
  My mouth is bone dry and I push a swallow past the burn in my throat.
  The single light that illuminates my surroundings is both a blessing and a curse, as I begin to see things in the wall of darkness that separates my little halo. Hallucinations? Maybe. The drugs still swimming through my body certainly don’t rule out that possibility. A pale white spectral figure dangling from the ceiling shakes my core, and I screw my eyes shut, hoping it’ll fade away. The withdrawals have settled over me, commandeering my mind, and have me seeing things that don’t make sense.

  Like the terrors of my youth.





Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.


For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter: 

 

 



 

RELEASE DAY BLITZ ~ Ripple Effect (Episode 2) by Keri Lake

 

 

 

 

 

EPISODE TWO: As a calculated assassin, Ripley thrives on always being in control.
But when the woman he’s sworn to kill makes an offer he can’t refuse, his control is what he risks losing most.

 

Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex.

 




Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.


For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter: 

 

 


 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Ripple Effect Episode Two by Keri Lake

 


Coming March 10th

 


EPISODE TWO: As a calculated assassin, Ripley thrives on always being in control. But when the woman he’s sworn to kill makes an offer he can’t refuse, his control is what he risks losing most.
Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex.

 


 


Drip.  Drip.  Drip.
My mind fights the all-consuming blackness closing in on me as I lay on the thin mattress whose springs poke into my back.  The beams above me shiver with dust that falls on my face every time he walks overhead. Chains beat against the cement wall I’m tethered to with every tremble that wracks my body.
Drip.  Drip.  Drip.  
Somewhere water leaks an incessant pounding in my skull, and I count every drop.  Six hundred thirty-eight.  Six hundred thirty-nine.  Six hundred forty.  A cold, moldy scent invades my nose, and the cough that rattles my chest turns into a gag, staving off the impending black hole I’m being sucked inside.  
He stole my pills, and what feels like shards of broken glass rolling inside of my stomach keep me from falling asleep.  Not that I want to sleep.  Not that I could.  But I need to, because the pain is too much.  It claws my insides like a beast, desperate for escape, demanding more of the sweet venom, the nothingness that keeps it tucked deep inside of me.  Muscle spasms create a line of tension through my body, so taut, I feel like my limbs will snap away.  
“Help me!  Fucking help me!”  My words bounce back at me from the walls, all hoarse and scratchy as though I’ve been screaming for days.  Have I?  I’ve blacked out a few times, only to wake to that dripping noise and the incessant pain.
I’m sweating in spite of the frigid tendrils that snake beneath my skin like frost crystals.  My body shivers and sickness twists my insides into a nauseating roil, threatening to climb my throat any second.  
I need my pills.  
“Please!”  I turn my head in time to expel the bile shooting up my throat.  Fire trails behind it as the acids burn my nostrils with another heave.  Over and over, I choke, head slung awkwardly to the side as the fluids leak down my cheek.  A coughing fit steals my next breath and another round of bile splashes on the floor somewhere beside me.
An ache throbs in my skull as I lay back onto the bed and the churning in my stomach intensifies.  The sensation of bugs scampering across my arms jerks my muscles, and I shiver at the crawling of my skin.  I cry out, kicking against my binds.  “Get off of me! Get off!”  It doesn’t go away, though.  It intensifies, a nightmare come to life, and I’m certain there are spider legs beating against my flesh, digging, attempting to burrow themselves into my bones.  “Get off of me!  Oh God, get them off of me!”
Urgency tugs at my gut.  I need to use the bathroom more than I ever have and the panic sends me kicking and screaming.  Bloating in my stomach balloons and the pressure to release has me arching up off the mattress.  No, no, no.  Please not this.
I’m going to soil the goddamn bed and be forced to sleep in my own filth.
Everything flicks to blackness.
In dreams, I’m carried into a bathroom, my whole body quaking and jerking.  I want to get away, but comfort blankets me in the warmth of the stranger’s arms and the heat of his skin as I lay against his solid chest.  A harsh and blinding light beats down on me.  Focusing through the glare, I stare at a set of angel wings inked across his chest and a crisp orange scent that is both delicious and nauseating overwhelms my senses.  My stomach feels light when he sets me down and the heat washes over me in waves of bliss.  Soft cotton trails down my temple as he wipes a washcloth over my face.
He pushes the wet strands of hair from my eyes, and my breathing calms, as I stare into the multi-colored eyes of a monster.

 



A Kindle Fire
$50 Amazon Gift Card
Keri Lake Swag Pack
To enter click HERE




Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.


For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/HJPHH

 

 




CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Ripple Effect by Keri Lake

 

 

Coming February 24th

 


Ripley


They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex.

 


 

Shells are made to be cracked.
I stare down at the tiny white egg, wedged between the ashtray filled with cigarette butts and the empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the balcony.  Hardly broken in two halves, the busted center reveals an underdeveloped bird inside, nearly devoured by the bugs that crawl in and out of the shell.  I can just make out one bulbous eyeball, surprisingly intact, staring back at me.  Mourning Dove, I’d bet.  They seem to flock to this shithole every year, for whatever reason.
The nest teeters on the edge of the eave somewhere above me, as if the mother intentionally chose this most dangerous spot to lay her egg then up and abandoned it.  Left to the careful watch of carnivores.
Poor little bird.
A tickle hits my arm and I slap a hand to my skin, before scratching at the spot just below a black monarch butterfly tattoo, digging my nails into the place where I’m certain I felt something crawling over me.  I hate when my long wisps of hair skim across the surface like a translucent web dancing over my skin.  Insects give me the willies.  Well, except for butterflies, I don’t mind them so much.  My therapist put a name on it once, said I had ento-something-phobia—a fear of bugs.  It’s not really the bugs themselves I fear, though.  It’s the idea that something could breach the barriers of my skin, and infest, just like the shell that housed that bird.  Sometimes I have dreams about them, crawling over me, nesting inside of me.  
The very thought casts a shiver down my spine, and I’m grateful for the pane of glass that separates me from the macabre outside my window.  
Wind rattles the glass in its frame, the tendrils of late winter snaking their way beneath the thin afghan wrapped around my shoulders.  It’s been mild, unseasonably warm enough for bugs and early blooms, but that Chicago wind carries the vestiges of a brutal winter.
The fog of my pills is lifting, making me more aware of the cold, but I’m holding off for something stronger.  I’ll need it tonight.
From below, the mumbled shouts of Lady Ortiz, as I call her, push their way through the rotted wood planks that separate our balcony from hers.  She and Mr. Ortiz are fighting again, their voices escalating into the crash of broken glass.   The Yorkie, three floors below, barks an incessant plea to take a piss outside, and I wonder if his owner, Mrs. Silvia, has finally kicked the bucket.  The lady’s pushing ninety, and the pungent reek of ammonia that fills her apartment seeps through the heating ducts of this place sometimes.
Oddly enough, in spite of the noise, the smells, and the crawling bugs, this is my moment of peace. Escape.  Freedom.  
I must be the only teenage girl on the planet who longs for quiet moments without the gossip, the socializing, and all the damn noise.  In a generation of selfies and the desperate need for validation, sometimes I like to slip onto the other side of the mirror and simply watch.
Fringed by the glow of my bedroom light, I study the broken shell, eyeing an ant that marches away with a chunk of something far too big for its size, and I’m reminded that the world takes what it wants even after death.
That’s how I got here, this shithole apartment smack in the middle of Chicago.  Just like insects, after my father’s death, the bank took our house, the creditors took our cars, and shame stole our pride as we bounced from shelter to shelter, my mom and me.  I was nine years old when he died, and as innocent and vulnerable as a baby bird trapped inside a fragile shell.
Because he committed suicide, my dad’s insurance policy was considered null, and we were left without a pot to piss in.  For a while, though, we got by.  My mom landed a job dancing, and as a veteran’s widow, qualified for something like Section Eight housing.  I was left home alone most nights, but it worked.  We survived. Things were okay for a while.
I can’t even remember the moment life changed for us.  
Feels like it happened in the span of a year, but I know it only took one fleeting second in time, when she didn’t have to worry about me, when the weight bearing down on her lifted and she felt high as the clouds.
An odd dichotomy, heroin—the way it rolls off the tongue as two completely opposite things—a selfless and courageous woman, and a selfish agent of destruction.  
My mom gave up one for the other and that began our descent into some of the darkest days of my life.
My stomach twists, and I curl into myself, bringing my knees tighter to my body.  
Almost time.
Two silhouettes hit my periphery, and I turn toward the mouth of the alley, where they move abruptly, limbs flailing, as if they’re in the thick of a fight.  I focus on them for a moment, spotting the sag of his slacks just below his un-tucked shirt, and realize they’re not fighting at all. They’re fucking.  A prostitute and her John pressed against the dirty bricks of the building, beside the overflowing dumpster. Her dark skin is hard to make out, but his crisp white shirt stands out like a beacon of debauchery.
This alley is a constant stream of slum life stories.
Staring at them drudges a memory of sitting tucked beside a line of garbage cans in the back alley of a bar, watching a rat pick at a maggot-infested chicken leg lying in a toxic pool of wastewater, while the sounds of my mother’s animalistic grunts and moans drifted from the other side.  Nothing but meat and the stench of rot taunting my gag reflex.  Through a small gap between the wall and garbage, I could just make out a man’s naked ass slamming into her, his dirty fingers curled around her bony thigh.  Even then, no more than eleven years old, I knew what she’d become before the word was brutally carved into her skin. Whore.  Junkie.  A prostitute, always searching for the next high.
The two in the alley stop moving.  Only that they’ve begun to pull their clothes back on tells me one of them must’ve climaxed.  There is no big finale, or magical moment of ecstasy in the underbelly.  It’s all quick and quiet fucks, while breathing in the fog and reek of stale sex and damp garbage.  He tugs his slacks over his hips and holds up an object, which I’m guessing is a thin wad of cash.  She reaches for it and the guy strikes her with the back of his hand, the echoing smack that kicks her head to the side is the first sound I’ve heard between them.  
He’s probably her pimp.  If she fights him, she’ll have to drag her ass across the city looking for an unclaimed street corner, and pray some crazy lunatic doesn’t pick her up and turn her into a human skin rug with her head mounted on his wall.
At seventeen, I know more about organizational hierarchy and job security than the average middle-aged CEO, and just like the corporate world, success depends on how many people get fucked.  
Wolves and sheep.
For those of us in the flock, survival comes down to how well we manipulate, because a predator’s eyes are naturally drawn to the most innocent.  So when my mom’s John started giving me that carnal look, I began carrying a pocketknife, and at thirteen, I once held it to the junkie’s throat, threatening to slice out his voice box if he ever touched me again.
Sometimes the sheep can be cunning, though.
My mom once tried to make me pickpocket—a lesson that landed us in the back of a cop car.  Took ten minutes with the cop before we were released with a warning, and it was then I learned a valuable lesson in life:  even at a woman’s weakest, sex could be her most powerful weapon.
I glance back at Charlie, my stark white Dogo Argentino, stolen from one of my mother’s back alley conquests.  If not for her, I wouldn’t be sitting here, letting the blood-sucking insects feed off of me, after my mother spiraled straight to her grave.  
Charlie gives me purpose.  If there is a God, I truly believe he put her in my life to keep me from doing stupid shit.  That, or to give me a weakness, because Lord knows I’d probably go psycho bitch crazy and end up in a padded cell if anything ever happened to my beloved dog.
Because of her, my heart is a tenderer piece of meat for the insects to tear apart.
At the opposite side of the room is another bed that belongs to my eight-year-old foster sister, Layla.  Well, for now anyway.  She won’t be here long.  This place is a revolving door for foster girls, most only staying a couple months max.  I don’t know where they go, and honestly, I don’t care.  There’s no point getting to know them.  In the time I’ve lived with the Westpricks, at least two-dozen girls have been in and out of here.  In some ways, I resent them, getting out and moving on to something else.  Maybe somewhere better.
I’m the only one who ever stays.  The constant in this hellhole.
Since I was nine years old, I’ve been bounced around from house to house, wishing and hoping for things that just don’t happen to kids where I come from.  For six of those years I’ve been lost.  The forgotten.  The unwanted.  I’ve been hurt in ways that have forever changed my landscape and numbed me to future pain.  
But now I have Charlie, who’s a reminder that good things can come from bad situations, and that even a beast can penetrate the hardest of hearts.  
Charlie makes me think of my mother more than I care to.  Perhaps because it was my mother who stole her for me, unwittingly gifting me my own personal guardian angel.  
I miss her sometimes, though.
The memories of her are like bent photographs that I pull from my back pocket from time to time, wishing I could set them out on a shelf someday.  But life’s too short, particularly in this part of the city, to dwell on what will never be again.
My mom wasted away before I even hit middle school. Police told me it was an overdose, but I think she got a hold of a tainted batch of heroin.  
And I’ve been caught up in the system ever since.
A few places worked out okay.  They let me keep my dog, which was cool, but people tend to give up on kids who don’t love as easily as others.  I acted out.  Punched my first foster mother in the face and broke her nose.  Didn’t even have a good reason, really, except that she was the first person I had to deal with after my mom died.
Lucky for me, my caseworker managed to track down my mom’s sister, Chanel, and her long-time boyfriend, Randy.  I’d never met her before, never even knew my mom had a sister. Aside from the fact that Chanel treats Layla and me like her favorite Barbie dolls, the two of them can’t stand us most of the time.
Doesn’t matter, though.
Two more months and I’ll be out on my own.  
I close my eyes so tight they ache.  Two more months.  That’s when I graduate and can get the hell out of this shithole, and away from the shady foster system that threw me into the hands of Randy Westprick, as I like to call him, and my flighty aunt.  In a few weeks I turn eighteen and no one will own me anymore.  No one.
I could run away now, ditch school and hit the streets, but that would put me on the same path as my mother and I’d rather die in this hellish place than repeat her mistakes.
The neon sign across the alley blinks a mesmerizing repetition of lost hopes that reflects off the patches of water along the pavement.
A shadow slips along my periphery, and I lift my gaze as a dark figure stalks down the alley toward the old fashioned-looking diner that sits across the narrow cross section on the corner.  A place that reminds me of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams painting I once saw at the mall.
It’s him.
Head to toe in black, the stranger’s tall frame remains concealed in the leather coat he always wears.  I flip open the dull brass pocket watch, the only remnant left of my real dad, and check the time.  Ten o’clock, as usual.  Churning in my stomach has me hugging my mid-section.  
Almost time.
Every Friday I watch the stranger enter the diner, choosing the corner booth beside the window, where he orders a burger and drink.  It’s only Friday he orders a burger.  Some nights he’ll come in, grab carry-out, and leave. But not on Fridays.  On those nights, he stays and sits alone, never seems to make small talk with the waitress—the same lady who waits on him every time he ventures in.  Their interactions are brief and as cold as I’d imagine from a man like him.  In spite of that, the sight of him makes me dream things.  I don’t know who he is, but I fantasize that he’s a deft killer by the way he carries himself with such lethal grace.  If he is, then this is the side his victims never get to see—his vulnerability, choosing the same place, the same seat, the same time every Friday night.  It’s a sadness that speaks to me, because without fail, I find myself settling in by my window at the very same time.  
Occasionally, he goes at different times, on different days, some weeks not at all, which might seem erratic to some, but I’ve watched him long enough to know there’s a pattern.  One that I’ve picked up on, because that one week he’s not there, is repeated precisely four weeks later.  Perhaps it’s mindless on his part, maybe his visits correspond to events in his life that I’m not privy to, but I’m a creature of patterns, and I’ve memorized his.
From as high as my window, I can see he’s big.  A man, not a boy, at least ten years my senior.  His bulky frame fills the creases of the leather coat he wears, and he reminds me of something straight out of a comic book—not the hero, but the menacing antihero, the bad guy no one expects to be good.
No, in my fantasy, he’s bigger.  Meaner.  Stronger.  A man who kills on instinct.
Beneath the cover of my blanket, I sneak my hand down inside my shirt, closing my eyes the moment my fingertip makes contact with my hardened nipple.  I imagine his lips closing over it, the scratch of his day-old scruff against my skin and his strong hands holding me in place, the gruff in his voice as he says my name like a fervent prayer.  I imagine he smells good, not like stale beer and the putrid mix of body odor and bacon grease, but something deliciously masculine.
I shouldn’t want for a grown man this way, but I do, and I don’t even know him.  
For months, I’ve held this invisible rendezvous with him, staring down from my perch, imagining him stealing me from this cage.  Turning me into whatever he is.  Killer?  Criminal?  I don’t even care, so long as it’s tougher, more wicked than Randy Westprick.
I fault him for my lack of interest in the boys at school.  Not that I’m allowed to date them anyway, but I’m certainly not touching myself to any of the guys my age.
Sometimes he stares out the window and I swear his gaze scans up to my balcony. However, if he sees me, he never makes it known.  Perhaps to a man like that, I’m nothing but a young girl, hardly a threat for noticing him.
With my bottom lip caught between my teeth, I succumb to the visuals toying with my mind and the soft moan that escapes me has me stealing a furtive glance back at Layla to make sure she’s still asleep.
He takes his usual seat, filling the booth with his bulky frame.  Some nights I picture sliding into his lap, his body crushing me against that table, as I straddle his thighs.  I imagine his massive arms enveloping me.  His tongue across my skin and in my mouth.  Sweat dripping down my back, along my spine where the palm of his hand holds me in place.  How he’d feel without the pills denying me the sensation of his cock filling me.  The edge of the table beating into my back with every punishing drive of his hips, and the tight clench of his jaw in that reckless moment when he finishes inside of me.
My lips part at the vivid imagery, and my belly tightens while I circle my nipple with the pad of my finger.
If anyone were after him, he’d be hard to miss in those bright lights, the way he stands out like a splotch of black paint on a stark white canvas. He hasn’t looked this way once tonight, which allows me to study him intently, admiring his virile features.
He’s beautiful.  A sad, but beautiful man.
The click of the doorknob sends a knot straight to my throat and my stomach sinks like bricks in a murky river. The sound alerts my dog, who I can hear rustling in her bed, and a low growl rumbles in her chest.  
I slip my hand out of my shirt, straightening myself beneath the afghan.  
A beam of new light invades the soft glow of the Christmas lights I’ve strung around the room for Layla, and as my nightmare enters, Charlie’s growl dies to a whimper.
The thud of his boots across the floor sound like the hooves of the devil coming to claim my soul.  A scuffling tells me he’s stumbled, but not even that prompts me to turn around.  
Drunk again.
The moment I caught him hunkered down in front of the television with a six-pack, I knew he’d come for me.  I don’t want to look at him.  I hate him.  The smell of him makes me sick, like a walking deep fryer.  
If not for Charlie, I’d climb over the railing of the balcony, spread my arms, and fly.  The police would find a broken shell of me.  They’d study me, the same way I studied the baby bird, while the world dissects pieces of my story to suit their curiosities, leaving nothing but a picked over carcass.
All because my mother abandoned her nest.
They’ll never know it was he who gave the final push, and it won’t even matter.  Once he injects the drugs, I’ll fall into dissociative bliss, tucked away in the same fog that kept my mother oblivious of the world around her, on rose-colored clouds, and a never-ending dream.  
The darkness behind my eyelids is my only refuge from the hell around me, and I’ll willingly climb inside, burrowing myself in that place where no one can touch me.  While my body’s propped on the cold metal of the washing machine, I’ll be miles away, fallen deep into the rabbit hole.  No one can find me there.  Not Randy, nor the men who see the photographs of me that he takes in the dingy laundry room of this apartment complex.  
Although he never violates me himself, for whatever reason, he likes objects.  The more common they are, the more he gets off.  He once had me masturbate the end of a vibrating toothbrush and used it for months after—smiling at me every time he brushed his teeth.  
I’ve been defiled in every sense short of rape, stripped and purged of innocence, feeding his disgusting obsession with me.  
I often wonder what Chanel’s like when she’s not hopped up on pain pills.  If she’d be jealous and accuse me of fucking her man, or if she’d take pleasure in watching him do it.  I once tried to tell her about him taking me down there and snapping pictures of me.  She offered me one of her pills and asked if I liked the boots her friend had handed down to me.  
I can’t blame her too much, though.  Randy likes to use her as his personal punching bag, and most days, she’s sporting a bruise somewhere.  Even if it’s not always visible.  He’s hit me a few times, but unlike Chanel, I hit him back, even at the risk of more pain, because I believe once you show weakness, it’s easier to fall prey to it.
A tug at my elbow and I glance to the side, swatting at his arm.  “Don’t touch me.”
Sometimes Randy offers gifts—small tokens that come with his usual pep talk about how it’s not abuse because he never actually penetrates me and the photos don’t show my face.  That’s a lie.  I once swiped his phone when he passed out on the couch and deleted a good few dozen pictures of me—his little mementos.  I couldn’t stand to look at my own face—droopy eyes singed with the apathy toward whatever he forced me to do. I’d hoped to see shame in those photos, but it seemed buried too far beneath the effects of the drugs.
He’s threatened to circulate them throughout the school if I say a word about any of this.  Send them to all my classmates on Facebook, as if they’d come from me.  Like he’d ever let me have my own account.  As far as the world is concerned, I don’t exist.
“C’mon,” is all he says, before walking out of the bedroom.
I give one more glance toward the man in the diner, as he stares off, waiting for his food.  Maybe one day he’ll look up and see me.  
Maybe he’d want to kill Randy Westprick, if he knew that somewhere close by, a girl was forced to do bad things.  Very bad things.
For now, the drugs will put up a barrier, separating my mind from the horrors of my reality, much like the pane of glass that separates me from the insect-ravaged bird outside my window.
Maybe it won’t hurt as much this time, knowing that I do this to keep Randy from slaughtering my dog or taking away the pills that have become as necessary as the air I breathe.  A vicious cycle of escaping to survive and surviving to escape.
Because sex is power.
And even the hardest shells are made to be cracked.

 


Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.

For news, updates and sneak peeks at the sexy cover model candidates for her annual Cover Model Contest, subscribe to her newsletter: 

 




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