Authors: Jennifer Miller
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, bands, and/or restaurants referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Cover Designer: Robin Harper, Wicked by Design
Formatting: Elaine York,
Allusion Graphics, LLC/Publishing & Book Formatting
Cover Model and Photographer: Darren Birks
“The Desire of Love is to Give; The Desire of Lust is to Take.”
– Edwin Louis Cole
To my street team, Miller’s Killers - thank you for all of your support.
“I love you, Ryder,” she whispers and I strain to hear her.
“I love you, too. Why are you whispering?”
“I’m so sorry,” she continues as if she didn’t hear me at all.
Her small meek voice sets me on edge and I grip the phone harder. Something’s wrong. I can feel it. “It’s okay,” I tell her soothingly. “Just come over like we planned. You’re late. Where are you anyway?”
“Know that you made me happy,” she slurs. “You caused me to have moments where I totally forgot about it all. It’s because of you.”
My hand is throbbing now from my grip on the phone, but the pain pales in comparison to the sensation I feel when my stomach drops from her words. My breath catches on her name and I struggle to say what I’m feeling. An ache begins resonating and escalating in my chest with each passing second.
“I’m sorry. I tried. Please forgive me,” she begs.
“There’s nothing to forgive. Where are you? I’ll come to you.” I’ve already grabbed my car keys, ready to walk out the door.
“Goodbye, Ryder. Be happy. For me.”
I scream her name, but hear nothing. Pulling the phone from my ear, I see my home screen, indicating the call has dropped. Pleading with my car to get me there quickly, I impatiently and repetitiously push the button on the remote, then fumble to get my keys in the ignition; my hands now trembling. As I put the car in gear and peel out of the parking lot, I frantically try to call her back. Each, and every time, the connection goes immediately to voicemail. “Baby, call me back right now. Please.” My breath comes in pants, the hair on my arms stands on end, and a deep tremble takes over my body, as fear engulfs me.
“Fuck!” Slamming my hand into the steering wheel as the light in front of me changes to red forcing me to stop, I use the time to try to call her roommate. “Come on, come on,” I whisper to myself as the phone rings. She may be mad at me for getting her roommate involved, but I don’t care. She can be mad at me all she wants, as long as she’s okay. She’s scaring the hell out of me. A small moment of relief displaces a bit of the fear when her voice comes on the line, “Hello?”
“It’s Ryder,” I get straight to the point, not wasting time on pleasantries. “Have you talked to her or seen her in the last few minutes?”
She stumbles over her words initially, not expecting my abruptness. “What do you mean? I’m not home.” I hear movement and the background quiets with her next words. “I mean, we spoke earlier when I stopped at home, but I was in a hurry. Why? What’s going on?”
“Why do you say that? What happened?”
“She called me and it sounded like….”
“Like what?” she asks.
“Like she was saying goodbye.”
“Was she okay when you saw her?” The light turns green and I release a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I feel a little less tense knowing I’m moving toward her again.
She pauses for a moment, but it feels like a lifetime. “I don’t know… I mean, I guess now that you say that…there was something off about her. I asked if she was okay, but she didn’t really answer me. She did tell me that I’ve been a great roommate which was kind of weird, but I just laughed, told her the same, and ran out the door.”
I exhale harshly, and my foot comes down on the gas harder. “And that didn’t tip you off? Make you take two fucking minutes out of your self-described ‘busy schedule’ to talk to her and find out what she meant by that?” My anger and harshness with her reflect the fear that’s gripping my heart. Taking a deep breath, I try to calm myself, regretting my words, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just worried. I’m on my way to her place right now.”
“I’ll meet you there,” she says before she hangs up.
While driving, I repeatedly try to call her again, and again, with the phone on speaker. The call never connects to her personally. Her sweet voice rings out in my car over and over telling me to leave her a message. Giving up, I throw my phone in the seat next to me.
I should have known. I should have known confronting the biggest nightmare of her life would make her spiral out of control. She said she was okay, said she was managing it and even stated it was easier than she thought it would be. Shouldn’t I have known she was lying? I wondered how it could be true, but I guess I wanted to believe her so badly, that I took her at face value. Forced myself to take her word for it. Big fucking mistake. Shouldn’t I have seen the truth in her eyes? Did I look hard enough? Did I want to see it?
Pulling into her parking lot with a squeal of my tires, I throw myself out of my car and barely register slamming the door closed behind me. Running up the walkway, I leap up the stairs, taking two or more at a time. I’m panting and can hardly catch my breath as I step up to her door, but it isn’t from physical exertion. The door is locked, so I use my key to get in, not bothering to knock. It’s dark and eerily quiet inside. A feeling of uneasiness crawls up my spine, making me shiver.
“Babe,” I call out. “It’s me. Are you here?”
As I rake my hand through my hair, my eyes roam the living room, then the small dining room and attached kitchen – there’s no sign of her. Suddenly, my anxiousness increases as I walk slowly with tremulous steps, my breathing resonating in my ears. I pass the empty bathroom, and my steps - cushioned from the carpet - halt as I reach her bedroom door just across from her roommates. Pushing it open, I jump slightly when the door creaks.