For the first time in her life, Charlie felt like she belonged.
She loved living in Redemption, Wisconsin. She had everything she ever wanted: a home, friends, a new business, a new love.
However, nothing is ever what it seems in Redemption. And you should never, ever, discount the darkness hiding under the surface.
The Reckoning is Part 2 of Charlie's story and resolves the cliffhanger from The Summoning.Both books are a prequel to the main series and can be read before Books 1-3.
2018 PRG Reviewers' Choice Award Second Place Winner for Best Book Series
Release date: December 22, 2020
Publisher: Love-Based Publishing
Print pages: 376
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Reckoning: A psychological suspense novel
USA Today Bestselling Author Michele Pariza Wacek
I found Jonathan standing by the window in the kitchen. The silvery light of the full moon shone on his broad, naked chest and tight jeans, making him look like a statue of a Greek god. As always, my heart melted at the sight of him.
Our affair had been ongoing for six weeks, and it was still as intense and hot as it when it first began. We saw each other as much as we could. It was like we were newlyweds, although that word always made me cringe when it crossed my mind.
I wasn’t proud of what I was doing. But I also couldn’t stop.
Jonathan didn’t like to talk about his marriage either, but one night, he did bring it up. “I knew almost immediately it was a mistake.”
We were lying in bed together, my head tucked into his shoulder as he trailed his fingers gently across my naked back, sending delicious shivers down my spine. The windows were open, and a cool breeze rustled the curtains.
“We were dating, but it was pretty casual. Mostly, we were friends. Really good friends, but friends,” he said. “We certainly weren’t in love.”
“Then why would you marry her?”
He sighed. “She was desperate. She was graduating and couldn’t find a job anywhere. She was terrified to go home, sure that if she did, she’d never leave. Her father is an abusive tyrant. It had taken all her courage to leave the first time, but if she couldn’t figure out how to support herself, she would have to go back.
“I couldn’t stand seeing her like that. I also didn’t think I would ever fall in love. After all, I do have my own trust issues,” he quietly laughed. “So, I thought, why not marry her? I could bring her back to Redemption, where I already knew I had a job, a good job, waiting for me. I could support us both, and she wouldn’t have to go back home to that bastard.
“She started crying when I asked her. She wanted me to promise to keep her safe—to never put her in a position where she would have to go home. And I did.” He sighed a sad, discouraged sigh.
“I don’t understand. What does that mean?”
“It means I can’t just divorce her,” he said. “I can’t break that promise.”
I lifted my head, propping it up with my arm to look at him. He gave me a crooked smile. “I realize how strange that sounds, seeing as I’ve already broken my marriage vows,” he said.
“Well, like I said, we’re friends. We don’t have much of a marriage. We never have.”
“Are you saying she’s okay with this?”
He put his arm under his head. “I wouldn’t go that far. But she’s ... accepted it. Just as long as we stay married and she and the kids are supported and taken care of. At least, for right now, that’s the way it has to be.”
I didn’t tell him that Felicity had come into Aunt May’s one afternoon for ice cream for the kids. She sat in my section, Darrel clamoring on the seat across from her while she propped Tina in her lap. I wouldn’t have known who she was, but Claire pulled me aside as I was about to approach her table. “That’s Jonathan’s wife,” she hissed in my ear. “Let me take her order.”
I hung back and watched as Claire breezed up, her cheerful “Felicity, it’s so nice to see you. And look how big Darrel has grown!” echoing in my ears.
At the time, nothing seemed amiss. Felicity seemed happy to chat with Claire. I told myself her coming in was coincidence. After all, why wouldn’t a mom bring her kids in for ice cream on such a hot afternoon?
As the kids ate, I studied her out of the corner of my eye, taking extra time to clear tables and refill coffee. She was pretty in a waif-like way—very thin and tiny with straight, blonde hair—right out of the seventies. Her eyes were pale blue, and her features were pixie-like. No wonder Jonathan wanted to take care of her … she looked like a fragile, porcelain doll.
His son was adorable, the spitting image of his father, and his daughter was awfully cute, as well. Theirs was a truly beautiful family.
What the hell was I thinking?
Despite the guilt, I couldn’t pull my eyes away. It was like the urge to pick at a scab even though it hurt. There I was, milling about the dining area, watching Jonathan’s family eat their ice cream while enjoying a lovely family day.
It wasn’t until Felicity was leaving, sliding out of the booth with Tina’s carrier in hand, that she turned to look directly at me.
The hate in her eyes was so intense, I almost dropped the plates I was busing.
But, just as fast, she turned away, calling Darrel to wait for her and not get so far ahead, leaving me trembling next to a partially bused table.
Jonathan could tell himself their marriage was based on friendship instead of love all he wanted. I was fairly certain that Felicity had a different perspective.
“Did you hear it, too?” Jonathan asked.
He had spied me hovering by the doorway. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I went to him, tucking myself under his shoulder as he wrapped his arm around me. His distinct scent of maleness was always so comforting. “You didn’t scare me,” I said. “I just wasn’t sure what was taking you so long.”
He moved the curtain a fraction of an inch. “I was sure I heard something.”
He grimaced. “It was probably just the creaking of the house, but sometimes, it’s hard to tell if it’s coming from inside or out. I wanted to be sure.”
“And are you?”
He didn’t answer right away, instead continuing to peer out the window. “I’m not seeing anything.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
He didn’t respond, just hugged me. “I wish you weren’t here all alone,” he said. He didn’t continue, but I knew he was thinking it.
I wish I could stay here with you.
Ever since the night of the séance, things had been quiet … at least on the Alan front. There had been no other signs of him being in Redemption, or even that he was alive. I hadn’t had another dream.
On the surface, it appeared it had worked.
Yet, I knew Jonathan wasn’t convinced. He rarely said anything about it, probably because he didn’t want to worry me, but I could tell he was keeping an eye on me—regularly searching the house and grounds, stopping by the diner when I was working, even just calling in the middle of the day to make sure everything was okay.
On one hand, it was nice to feel so watched over and protected. It made me feel loved and cared for at a level I wasn’t sure I had ever felt.
On the other hand, it made me uneasy.
Was there something I had missed? Something I wasn’t seeing?
Beware. It’s coming.
The cryptic message I had seen in the mirror the night of the séance. At first, I thought it referred to Alan, but as time passed and there was no sign of him, I started to wonder if maybe it was referring to something else.
Or maybe I hadn’t really seen it at all.
Jonathan’s back had been to the mirror that night, so he couldn’t help. I didn’t even bring it up with him, because I didn’t want to worry him any more than he already was.
The person I wanted to talk to about it was Claire. I felt like she would know what had happened that night. It was all such a blur to me, and every day, the events seemed to get fuzzier and more indistinct.
I felt like a conversation with my friend would really help me get clear. But ever since that night, Claire had been withdrawn and distant. I’d tried a few times to get her to open up. I’d invited her for a drink or a meal, but she was always busy or had too many things on her plate.
At first I thought it was me, but one day, Lou came into Aunt May’s waving cheerfully at me and calling out how we all needed to get together again soon before asking if Claire could wait on her. That’s when I overheard her asking Claire what was going on … why she didn’t have time to see her anymore. Claire had answered with the same vague, nebulous non-answers she had been giving me.
Something was up with Claire.
Jonathan sighed as ran his hand down my back, making my spine tingle again. “I have to go,” he whispered.
He dipped his head to nuzzle my neck. “I don’t want to.”
He nibbled on the delicate skin behind my ear as I stretched my neck out, before pushing me gently away. “I mean it. I have to go.”
He stared at me for a moment, his eyes dark with desire. “You’re going to be the death of me, Charlie.”
I smiled my most innocent smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He stepped away, raking his hands through his hair. “I’m going, I’m going. But call me if anything happens.”
A murmur of unease whispered through me. “Why do you think anything is going to happen?”
He headed to the living room where his shirt was pooled on the floor. “I don’t. I didn’t see anything outside.”
I followed him to stand in the doorway. “What exactly made you look?”
He sighed as he started buttoning his shirt. “I don’t want to scare you ...”
“Bit too late for that.”
He didn’t look at me, focusing instead on his shirt.
“I thought I heard something, okay?” he said, his voice exasperated. “But I was wrong. Where are my keys?”
“Why are you so upset?”
He pushed his hands through his hair again. “Why do you think? I don’t like leaving you. Especially since we don’t really know. Where are my keys?”
I watched him search the living room, swearing under his breath. I knew this was hard on him; it was hard on everyone. And there were no easy answers.
I spied his keys under the hallway table and went over to scoop them up for him. “Look,” I said, as I handed them to him. “I’m fine. You searched the house earlier, right?”
He closed his eyes briefly. “Yes.”
“All the doors are locked. You know this because you went through the house. I’ll lock the front door behind you. I’ll be fine. And the reality of the situation is that Alan died in the car crash, and we are making ourselves crazy over nothing.”
He took a deep breath. “You’re right. I’m overreacting. Probably because I ... well, never mind.” He leaned over and gave me a gentle kiss. “Lock your door.” He waggled his finger in my face.
I saluted him. “Aye aye, sir.”
He stepped outside and I shut the door behind him, immediately turning the deadbolt. I knew he would stand there on the porch until he heard the click of the lock sliding into place.
I turned and saw Midnight lightly leap onto the couch. While he didn’t seem to be bothered by Jonathan, he mostly kept out of sight until Jonathan left. He locked his green eyes onto mine and meowed.
“Yeah, it’s time to go to bed,” I said, yawning. I had a kitchen to clean, as I had been a little distracted after making Jonathan dinner. Plus, I had the early shift at Aunt May’s in the morning. I had dropped back to part-time while I worked on getting the tea business going. In fact, I reminded myself to make sure I dropped off Nancy’s tea order after work, and decided I’d better put it out now, so I didn’t forget.
I headed up the stairs, my mind ticking off the normal to-dos I had to accomplish for the next day.
Still, I found myself glancing over my shoulder.
Wondering if I was truly was alone.
Or, if there was someone out there, in the shadows, watching me, just waiting for me to let down my guard.
I quickly pushed that thought out of my head. I was fine. It was exactly like I told Jonathan. Alan was dead. I was safe and building a brand-new life in my new home.
The worst was behind me.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...