by S.L. Pierce & Maren Kaye
Is a stranger who stalks your stalker a friend or your worst enemy? Rachel Pendelton is determined to break from her small town past and stake out a new life for herself with a dream job in the big city. But hard work and determination are no match for whoever is working against her. When anonymous gifts show up, she’s flattered. When they appear in her locked apartment, she starts worrying. What can she do when everyone she turns to for help looks suspicious? What she doesn’t know is that a game has begun. A game with rules as baffling as they are deadly. A game that will pit her against the criminally insane. And only one can finish alive.
Excerpt of THE DEVIL’S GAME by S.L. Pierce & Maren Kaye
“I found another one.”
“It’s hardly a surprise that you would find something you spend your days looking for,” Dr. Gloria Pike said, setting down her pen and leaning back in her chair. They had been through this before.
“Let’s not pretend. Aren’t we past this?”
Patient X didn’t answer, and Dr. Pike knew there would be no more talking until she apologized.
“Sorry, please continue.”
“It was a man and woman. Too old to be students. Maybe training. Maybe working on a project. Anyway, it was clear she was the boss, and he was in love with her.”
“What made you think that?”
“It was so obvious. The way he kept looking at her. Hanging on every word. His eyes all over her face. Desperate and waiting for something, some sign. Even when he was laughing, moving closer, it was there. He wanted her so much.” The patient paused, staring out the window. “His eyes were blue. So blue.”
“And her? In love with him?”
“No. Definitely no. It was like a sad little dance. He would move in; she would move away. She never touched him. Even when he gave her many openings.”
“How did you feel, watching them?”
The patient paused as if the answer required thought. “Excited.”
“You know why.”
“Yes, I do. Do you?”
“What did you do?” Dr. Pike asked.
“What I always do. I followed them.”
“And the Academy Award for the best animated short film produced by a hungry grad student goes to…” Rachel could hear her heart rushing through her ears. This was it; it had to be. She was the only hungry grad student nominated this year. This was her best film. All her hard work was about to pay off in spades. But why was it taking so long to open the envelope? Wait, why is Gwyneth Paltrow making out with Billy Crystal? Open the envelope! Open the damn envelope!
The sound of Billy and Gwyneth giggling into the microphone was slowly replaced by the low hum of an alarm clock. Rachel swore several profanities as her hand slapped at the snooze button in an attempt to put an end to the irritating sound.
“Coffee,” she said out loud to her empty room. She decided to bypass her usual morning routine of fresh fruit and yoga in light of her heartbreaking loss. Especially since it was probably the only award nomination she would ever get, awake or asleep.
As she sat at her desk/art space/kitchen table savoring her heavenly cup-of-joe, her day slowly began to jell inside her brain. Today was Tuesday, which meant video production and calculus. One she loved, the other she loathed. It was heaven and hell in the span of four hours. This was her third attempt at advanced calculus, and without it, there was little hope of getting a full-time position at Mad Media Animation Studio. She was determined to get a “real job” before she turned twenty five, if for no other reason then to hold her head a little higher when her dad asked her if she needed a little extra cash, you know, to help pay for those two “artsy-type” degrees she got.
If it weren’t for Justin, there would be no hope at all. He had come to her rescue in the second week of the class, sensing her utter panic. He was incredibly gifted at translating calculus. He was also incredibly gifted at annoying her. It was so strange the way he stumbled over every word when he was talking about nothing. But open up a math book and he transformed into a loquacious chatter-box.
“Speak of the devil,” she said when she heard Sonny and Cher sing out “I got you babe” from her cell phone. Justin’s ringtone was her private joke. It referred to the movie Groundhog Day and Bill Murray’s reaction at hearing it every morning at the same time. Reluctantly, she picked up the phone and punched the little green button.
“Hey, Justin, you’re up early.” She could hear his thick nasal breathing on the other end.
“I just wanted…um.. Hi Rachel,” he said in his usual disjointed manner.
“Hi, Justin,” she said. “You wanted to ask me something?” she prompted when he didn’t respond.
“Yeah, I…how are you…I mean are you ready for the test?”
Rachel knew she was dipping her toe in dangerous waters with Justin. He was obviously not tutoring her for the fifteen dollars she made him take each time. And he wasn’t the type to come right out and ask her for a date so that she could politely refuse him and they could move past it. Oh, no. He just kept the possibility of it dangling out there like a smelly gym sock she was constantly having to politely side-step.
I’ve been completely honest! she told herself over and over. But deep down she knew it was going to end badly. It was going to end badly because as annoying as he was, he had a heart of pure gold. He loved kids and dogs. He was finishing some kind of new teaching program designed for inner-city school kids. He was funny sometimes, though not usually on purpose. And under all that God-awful geekines, he was actually kind of cute.
Don’t go there, Rachel, she told herself.
“Yep, I’m good, Justin. But thanks for calling,” she said in an I’m going to hang up now kind of way.
“Do you eat? I mean have you…or are you going to eat breakfast…do you want to meet… for coffee?” By the time he had gotten that all out, Rachel had finished her cup and was working on a second.
“Is something on your mind, Justin?” Be direct, be honest.
“Yeah… well…I mean no…not really.”
“Well, I’m glad everything’s okay. I’ve got to get going; tons stuff I’m way behind on. But I’ll see you later at class, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” he stammered.
She ended the call not waiting for his reply. She took a deep breath as she felt the caffeine pumping through her veins, accelerating her heartbeat. She walked over to the huge living room window and looked out onto the busy metropolitan street she lived on. It was a gorgeous spring day, perfect for a jog. She knew that her calculus class always went better when she’d had a good workout before hand. It helped keep her calm and focused. Not to mention the fact that she’d wimped out on her yoga this morning. If only she could muster up some motivation. Maybe a jog to the Steam Punk Café for some iced Chai. Yes, that would do it. There had to be a reward in there somewhere or she’d never make it out the door.
“Oh crap!” she said out loud. Justin. He loved the Steam Punk. As a matter of fact, he was the one who dragged her in there for her very first cup of iced Chai.
“I don’t drink weed water,” she had politely explained under her breath as they stood in line.
“Just trust me,” he had said to her with an ear-to-ear grin. Since there wasn’t much else on the menu that was fit for human consumption, she let him order – and pay.
“Here, try this,” he said, his puppy-dog face bright with anticipation. God, he could be so annoying!
The taste was unlike anything she had experienced. The exotic spices were smooth, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. And after a four-mile jog, there was nothing more refreshing. She gave a heavy sigh as she imagined the sweet luscious taste.
“Screw Justin!” she said. “I have every right to do whatever the hell I want!” And, of course she could always pretend she was happy to see him.
She began her usual pulling of dirty clothes from the hamper in search of some decent sweat pants and matching gym socks. As she was rummaging, she noticed a pungent order coming from something in her hand. It was a pair of underwear and a bra that smelled bitter and musty, but strangely familiar. She tried to remember the last time she had been out bar hopping. It had to have been at least three weeks. Note to self, she thought, tomorrow is laundry day.
As she was closing the door on her way out, she felt hot breath on her neck right before a strong hand grabbed her shoulder.
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