Sentenced to death…
All hope gone…
Until he receives a visit from victim #6
Condemned for a crime he didn’t commit, Quinten Peterson sat on death row praying for a miracle. He just never expected his angel of mercy to be the girl he fell in love with so long ago.
The press called her a victim, but Saige Lockwood was a survivor. And she had twenty-eight days to discover the truth about what really happened to her that fateful night, eight years ago.
With time running out, Saige desperately needed to unlock her memories . . . before it was too late.
Cover Design by Abigail Higson
Saige thought her head would explode as she gained consciousness, fighting through nausea, pain, and dizziness. A groan burst from between her dry cracked lips. She shivered. Cold clammy sweat coated her skin, as she lay naked on a hard surface. She tried to move her arms, but they wouldn’t budge. Restrained at the wrists. Panic like she’d never known welled in her throat. Frantic, she tugged on the restraints. No give. She cried out in fear and frustration. Her legs weren’t restrained. Why?
Her eyes snapped open. Dark. A blindfold? The dizziness cleared and she knew that she had to think. She had to remember.
Where was she?
What was she doing?
Who was she with?
An icy fear twisted around her heart—she remembered nothing.
A noise slowed her breathing while she listened—the thump of boots. The scrape of the door over the floorboards as it opened. A gust of cold air hit her flesh and goose bumps followed. The draft disappeared as she heard the creak of the door being forced closed, and then the shuffle of feet.
She wasn’t alone anymore.
“You’re awake,” he said, his voice distorted, emotionless and cold.
Dark fear crept down her spine.
Saige, God dammit! Pull yourself together, and think!
A calloused hand caressed her ankle, making her skin crawl. Survival. Saige quickly bent her knees, and with as much force as she could manage, she kicked out. Her right foot connected with hard flesh, followed by a groan and then a long, brittle silence.
“Fucking bitch,” he roared.
He roughly grabbed her ankles. She struggled to get them free, but he had strength and freedom on his side. His torso fell across her legs while his fingers fumbled to restrain her ankles.
He grunted and used her body to push himself up and away. His hands had felt large and rough. His feet shuffled on the wooden floor and then the clank of instruments against a metal tray made her heart race.
A sharp prick in her thigh and her strength swiftly disappeared. Her body felt heavy.
“I’m going to make you pay for breaking my nose,” he growled. “You will pray for death.”
She began to shake, the fearful images his words created built in her mind.
“That’s right, Saige”—he fastened something around her neck—“you can’t cause any more trouble now.” He laughed, a frightening, manic sound that was almost worse than everything else he was doing to her.
“Nothing to say?” His voice was inflamed and hostile.
Panic welled in her throat when he trailed his fingers down her torso to her feet.
His eerie laugh terrified her more than anything.
Tears seeped into the fabric of her blindfold. As she drifted into sleep, her last conscious thought was of the man she loved. He’d find her.
4 days later
A trail of white mist filled the air in front of Quinten the cold unusual for Florida.
He rubbed his gritty eyes as tiredness overwhelmed him. His feet were heavy as he moved through yet another section of forest, ducking and just missing being hit in the face by a stray branch, only to walk straight through a spiderweb. He reached up and wiped the sticky web from his face.
He felt desperate, which kept him searching. He’d been that way since his brother, Alex, and he had discovered Saige’s abandoned car. It had sat at the side of the highway with all four tires flat. Shredded. She’d been so close to home.
Days later, he was exhausted and knew he’d have to rest soon or he’d pass out from lack of sleep or lack of nourishment. Energy snacks only lasted so long.
Sweat trailed down his back. His thighs quivered as he pushed himself harder. Light wasn’t his friend with the thick, tall trees rising out of the earth to brush the sky. He tripped and went down with a hard thud thanks to a rotten fallen log. His attention hadn’t been on where he would take his next step. His eyes had been busy searching, and his heart full of the need to find Saige. The girl he loved.
He brushed dead leaves and pine needles from his clothing and continued pushing forward. Listened for noise that didn’t belong in the forest that would indicate he wasn’t alone.
Fatigue settled over him like a thick black cloud, which is why when he took his next step he fell to the hard ground. He scrambled for a foothold. Earth disappeared under him and he started to slide down through the muddy underbrush. His hands reached out for purchase and got scarped and pierced from prickly thorns.
He continued to race downwards and when he burst between two thick and bright berry bushes a wooden structure appeared in front of him. Before his brain registered what his eyes saw, he came to an abrupt bone-jarring stop.
Stunned, Quinten moved into a more comfortable position, his body aching from head to foot. The shack was hidden so deeply in the foliage that it would have been missed but for his undignified fall. He caught his breath and glanced around unable to pick up any other sound. Not even that of an animal.
The shack was a small structure made of mud-chinked logs. He slowly moved around the perimeter until he found a half-rotten step leading to a warped doorframe. The wooden door had a shiny new padlock. Keep strangers out? Someone inside? Both?
Moving forward, he tested the two steps before he allowed them to take his weight. His breath became heavy as he took another look around and noticed the drooping roof covered with dead leaves and twigs. He prayed the shack would stay together until he’d had a chance to check inside.
He dropped his knapsack to the ground, and took out his pocketknife. He’d never been good at locks, so he stabbed and chipped at the rotten wood surrounding the padlock. As splinters of wood started to fly off, he finally exhaled. He was getting somewhere.
He turned his head to make sure no one was creeping up on him.
He missed the door and stabbed himself. Pain shot up his arm to his shoulder, radiating throughout his body as he caught his breath on a hissed curse. Blood ran in rivulets down to his hand, dripping on the ground.
The good news: he’d managed to pry the new padlock from the rotten frame. The bad news: he needed to stop the bleeding before he did anything else, or he’d be of no use to anyone.
The door in front of him didn’t open as he thought it would so he stood back and kicked with all his strength. The door broke from the frame and thumped to the ground.
He paused on the threshold and let his eyes adjusted to the dim light. An overwhelming smell hit his senses. His nostrils flared and his stomach rolled as he tried not to gag.
A quick glance noted three kerosene lanterns hanging from rusty hooks. A workbench filled the left side with a lonesome shiny silver tray sitting in the middle of it. Instruments a surgeon would use laid out neatly in a row.
His legs trembled as he took another step inside, and that’s when the true horror hit him. “Saige?” He staggered to the wooden table, which was bolted to the floor in the middle of the room.
“Saige?” His voice sounded broken. She lay motionless. He hesitated and pressed two fingers to her ice-cold skin to check for a pulse. Relief rushed through him. She had one, albeit faint.
He became lightheaded which drew his attention to his arm. He’d forgotten about his injury. He took a quick glance around the shack, and moved to the workbench. On the shelf below he found a torn pale blue shirt. He wound it around his wrist and tied off a tourniquet before he moved back to Saige’s still body.
So much blood.
The leather straps around her ankles and wrists felt new and were stiff and unyielding as his fingers fumbled with the buckles.
He grabbed a surgical knife from the tray and cut through the bindings before he moved to her neck. He gulped and swiped at the tears and sweat that blurred his vision. He couldn’t afford tears. They’d have to wait until Saige was safe.
The leather strap around her neck was wide and thick with no give. He was surprised she hadn’t choked to death. But he thanked God when the buckle was easy to work because he sure as hell didn’t want to risk using a knife near her neck.
The leather gave and he hesitated, he had no idea where to touch her because of all the lacerations covering her body. The majority closed with congealed blood.
He removed the blindfold slowly and placed a kiss to each closed eyelid, relieved that she would now be safe.
From his knapsack he retrieved a blanket that would keep Saige warm, and wrapped it around her. His eyes scanned her broken body and he held his breath, praying he didn’t hurt her further as he lifted her into his arms.
Without wasting any more time, Quinten quickly dashed out of the shack and through the forest. He hadn’t gone far when he needed to catch his breath. He leaned against a tree and scanned the area, analyzing where he needed to go from there. He needed to put distance between them and the shack.
There was hardly any weight to Saige as he carried her against his chest. His body shook with relief that he’d gotten to her in time, and in fear that the sick fuck would come back before he could get her away.
Quinten looked down when Saige gave a slight gasp. Still unconscious, but he didn’t want to risk her waking and struggling in his arms. He spotted a small patch of grass that was free of brambles and underbrush and hurried forward. He dropped to his knees and carefully placed her down, hoping he wouldn’t cause her more pain.
She murmured slightly and curled into the warmth of the blanket.
He’d never felt as helpless as he did in that moment, hovering over her unconscious body. A searing rage filled him, knowing she’d been tortured and left for dead. He wanted to scream out in anger. Wanted to hunt the bastard down. He couldn’t do either. Saige needed him. He dropped his forehead to hers and gave in to his fear and anguish and let his tears fall before they choked him.
“Don’t.” Her whispered word was so quiet he wasn’t sure he heard her. Quinten lifted his head and scanned her face for any sign of her waking. Her eyelids fluttered open for mere seconds before they closed again. He wanted and needed more from her.
“Saige,” his tears choked him as he spoke. “You’re safe now. I won’t let anyone hurt you. I promise.” He caressed her face with frozen fingers, hardly noticing his own condition. “Saige, it’s me.” He softly kissed her lips and noticed they’d started to turn blue with cold. At the same time he noticed her pulse started to fade.
Panic coursed through him and chased away his rage. Not knowing what else to do, he lay down beside her, and pulled her into his arms. “Please open your eyes. Don’t give up,” he begged. “I won’t let you. Dammit, Saige. I love you.” He wrapped himself around her, willing his warmth and his life into her. She was so cold.
She would make it. She had to. He tried to give her what strength he had left as he slipped off to sleep. He was thankful he’d found her before she met the same fate as the other five victims.