Watch Her Sleep
Nestled in the autumn leaves, her hair tangled in thick brambles, the girl looks like she could be sleeping amongst the wild roses. But the trail of red across her delicate throat means this is a slumber she will never wake from… When a search party trawling Salem Island find a girl’s body curled on the damp earth, the hunt for missing waitress Emma Jacobis grinds to a devastating halt. The day before, Emma had come to Detective Charlie Winters convinced someone was watching her. In her trembling hand she held a sketch of herself sleeping peacefully with the stuffed rabbit she’d had since she was a child. On the back, scrawled in black ink: You will be mine… A box containing handwritten letters found under Emma’s bed is Charlie’s first lead. But the handwriting isn’t a match to the note left for Emma. With the help of her new assistant, a troubled girl eager to learn the ropes, Charlie’s only hope is to canvas the bar where Emma worked. There, she finds a woman with fear in her eyes and a terrifying story to tell about an encounter with a dangerous stranger. Is someone in this small town targeting vulnerable girls as prey? Certain she’s found a twisted killer’s hunting ground, and with time running out before he strikes again, Charlie must put her life on the line to lure him out into the open. But when a scream pierces through the night, will Charlie survive the consequences? She has to, or there’s no knowing how many more innocent girls will die… An absolutely nail-biting and completely jaw-dropping crime thriller. Fans of Kendra Elliot, Robert Dugoni and Lisa Regan will be left reeling after reading in one sitting! Everyone is talking about Watch Her Sleep : ‘ I finished this book at 4am because I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know what happened and sleep did not matter… every time I heard a noise, I was on edge thinking that there was someone hiding in the shadows. Incredible… the ending had my stomach in knots with tension. Amazing! ’ @pawswithprose, 5 stars ‘Leaves your heart pounding so hard you think it will come out of your chest.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars ‘ Filled with suspense and tension from the very first page… I was completely absorbed… addicted… absolutely gripping and unputdownable.’ BookWorm86, 5 stars ‘ H ad me hooked… kept me on edge and jumpy every time I heard a noise outside my bedroom window. I literally jumped out of my skin when one of my dogs came and jumped on my bed, that's how much I was into the story.’ Spooky's Maze Of Books, 5 stars ‘I found myself not wanting to put the book down – even to the point of waking up in the wee hours of the night to continue reading… mind-blowing plot twists.’ Jennlyreads.com, 5 stars ' Oh my goodness!… heart-pounding… had me checking the doors and window s that's for sure… nail-biting action, many twists and turns… fabulous.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars
Release date: March 18, 2021
Print pages: 350
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Watch Her Sleep
He watches through the windows as he creeps toward the house. Sees the glowing panes of glass like bright and hollow TV screens flaring in the night.
Looking for her. Waiting for her.
The darkness shifts around him as he crosses the front yard. The night grows thicker the closer he gets to the shade of the building, the bushes running along its perimeter helping to conceal him.
The sharp October chill reaches right through his jacket, presses its iciness against his back, against his chest. Pulls his skin taut. Sucks down into his lungs in frosty plumes. The cold feels invigorating tonight, though. Adds a sense of exhilaration to the proceedings.
He’s awake tonight. Alive. All the way.
Just as he rounds the corner into the side yard, he sees her skinny frame flit past one of the windows. A brief flash of her flutters in the big bay window, moving out of the living room and into the gaping maw of the hallway beyond.
His heart leaps. Head goes light and swimmy.
She is delicate. A fragile thing that appears gauzy in the half-light. Ghostly. Ethereal.
He stays low. Sidles past the overgrown shrubbery along the side of the house. Completely swathed in gloom now.
He can feel the shadows on his skin, the energy of those darker places seeping into his body, prickling bolts of electricity mainlining into his bloodstream. Power, raw and wriggling.
He reaches the corner at the back of the house where the bushes thin out some. Settles into his spot beneath her bedroom window. Keeps his face lower than the sill. Head angled up to stare into the glowing space.
With her back to him, she peels off her shirt. Her milky flesh gleams like alabaster. Black bra straps truss the ribcage, draw a perpendicular line across her spine and two more up and over her shoulders.
And then that dainty bit of lycra and wire comes off too. Frees that sheet of pale skin down to her waist.
His fingers curl on the wooden lip of the window ledge. Flexing and stiffening.
His heart hammers in his chest. Breath sucking between his parted lips.
Tonight’s the night. He knows that now. No more pane of glass between them.
He’s watched her for so long. Now he gets to touch.
She turns before him. Her front not quite coming into view.
His face flushes with animal heat. Fever touching his temples, spreading over his forehead. Cheeks tingling with pinpricks.
Then she disappears behind her closet door.
He licks his lips. Ducks back into the darkness.
He shuffles out from between the bushes along her window. Renews his trek to the rear of the house. Finds his way to the back door. Kneels before it.
He grips the door handle. Tests the sliding glass door. Locked.
Not a problem.
His fingers move lower. Seek the seam along the bottom of the doorway, where the door itself is mounted into a steel track. He finds the little grooved place in the metal there.
Then he slips the screwdriver out of his back pocket. Jams it home into the notch in the door frame. Lifts.
The door rises. Pops out of the track. The lock surrenders, the L-shaped latch lowered from the bracket by the upward force.
He smiles at how easy it is. Euphoria bubbling like champagne in his skull.
So many times he has let himself in this way. Violated her space this way. And somehow the thrill of it never diminishes.
Tonight is different, though. Usually he came when she wasn’t home. A few times when she was asleep, but this…
He lowers the slab of glass and wood back into its groove. The door slides open in slow motion.
The darkened kitchen lies before him, the dimly lit hallway stretching out beyond that.
He presses into the breach.
Visions of her whirl in his head as he crosses the threshold. Memories of all that creamy skin exposed. The curved contours of her hips and waist. The dimpled ridges running up the length of her spine. Those little swollen spots pouting on each side of her ribcage where he could glimpse the sides of her breasts, the skin there somehow paler still, milkier still. Everything tapering, dainty, sculpted just so.
He eases the door shut behind him and steps fully into the darkened kitchen. Soundless. Crouched low so he can just peer over the tops of the counters.
He drifts over the ceramic tile of the kitchen floor, and that tingle of power spreads from his arms into his chest with each step. Excitement swelling in him. Every pore throbbing and creeping with electricity, slicked with sweat.
So many times he’s been in her place, in her room. Picked through her things. Sprawled naked in her bed while she was away. Watched her while she slept.
But it’s different now. Knowing that he will touch her makes it different entirely. Makes that electricity in his blood burn hotter and brighter, so sharply it stings.
As he treads into the hallway, his senses heighten with a fresh rush of adrenaline, details sharpening around him. The stench of the potpourri in the vase on the console table becomes overpowering. Every creak and murmur of the floorboards underfoot makes him wince, makes his heart race faster and faster.
His eyes lock on that rectangle of light ahead—the glow spilling out of her bedroom door and over the hardwood planks of the floor.
Shadows move there, disrupting the glow. The light dulls. Her silhouette takes shape in the box of illumination.
He freezes. Watches.
She darts past. Shoots across the hall. Enters the doorway diagonal from her room. The bathroom.
But she doesn’t see him. Oblivious. Just the way he wants it.
She’ll have no clue he’s there until it’s too late.
He creeps forward a couple paces and tucks himself behind the console table the best he can—not really concealed there, but no longer out in the open either.
He peeks over the top of the table. Watches.
Watches as she trails back to her bedroom.
Watches as the light goes out a few moments later.
Hears the creak of the box spring beneath her mattress.
Licks his lips again.
He waits. Holds still. Breathes.
He wants to pounce. Touch her. Scare her.
But he needs to let the scene settle. Let her drift off toward slumber.
Blood thrums in his ears. Pulsing. Impatient.
Finally he slips out from behind the table. Ready now. Ready to take what’s his.
When no one wants you, when no one cares, you have to take it. There’s no choice in the matter.
He leans forward, about to take another step, but the floorboard squeals beneath him. A long, shrill squawk like a seagull.
Icy liquid surges through his veins.
He holds his breath. Maybe she didn’t hear.
And then the box spring creaks again.
“Who’s there?” she says, and there’s fear in her voice, but strength too. Defiance.
That tingle of power thrumming in his limbs dies back all at once. Abandons him. Leaves him cold, empty, vulnerable.
And it feels wrong. It feels all wrong.
But he waits. Holds his breath. Listens. Waits for the lights to flick on, but they don’t.
Maybe he can salvage this. Maybe she will settle back down. Maybe.
When headlights swing past the windows at the front of the house, he backpedals into the kitchen.
The car swerves into the driveway off to his right. Idles there, the engine rumbling. Then a car door slams. Someone is coming.
He retreats all the way to the back door. Waits there.
A knock rattles the front door, followed by the sound of her weight shifting on the bed. The whisper of bare feet on the floor.
Lights flick on in the living room, and the wooden front door pops and cracks as it’s eased out of its frame.
Then he hears a second woman’s voice, sharp and loud, apologizing for stopping by so late.
He hesitates there a moment. Listens to the babble of their two voices intertwining. Not quite wanting to leave.
He’s disappointed, yes, but he’s still somehow empowered to be here. Listening. Watching. Without anyone seeing, without anyone knowing.
When it feels right, he flees out the back door. Starts his crouch-walk journey back through the dewy yard, moving slowly but surely toward his car down the street.
Not tonight. But soon.
[CN] Chapter One
Charlie was wiping down the countertop in the back room when the bell over the front door jingled. A moment later, she heard Paige’s voice.
“Welcome to A1 Investigations. How can I help you this evening?”
A woman’s voice responded, but Charlie couldn’t make out the words through the wall. She glanced at the clock. It was a quarter to five. Too late to start the whole rigmarole that went with a client intake. She’d have Paige take down her information, and Charlie would follow up in the morning.
“Got big plans, do you?”
“I don’t know,” Charlie said, rinsing the sponge she’d used to clean up in the sink. “I thought maybe I’d call Zoe to see if she wanted to hang out.”
“Liar,” Allie said. “You’ve been daydreaming all day about vegging out with a pizza from Towne Square and that half-eaten pint of Ben & Jerry’s in your freezer.”
Charlie squeezed the sponge out, gritting her teeth. It was often irritating the way her sister always knew what she was thinking, but then what did she expect from a voice in her head?
“So what?” Charlie asked.
“Oh, nothing. It’s not like you’re wasting your life or anything. No, no. You’re a real carpe diem kind of gal, you know? That’s what I’ve always liked about you, Chuck.”
Charlie tossed the sponge down and was about to tell Allie to shut her face, but she was interrupted by her assistant coming into the room.
“There’s a girl out front with some questions for you,” Paige said.
Charlie dried her hands with a paper towel. “The kind of questions I can answer in fifteen minutes and follow up on tomorrow morning?” she asked.
Paige chewed her lip. “I think maybe you ought to talk to her yourself and decide.”
“Why? What does she want to know?”
“Well, the first thing she asked when she came in was how she could tell if someone was tailing her.”
“‘Tailing.’ Is that the word she used?”
That was unusual enough for Charlie to poke her head out to get a better look.
The girl was young. Under twenty-five, if Charlie had to guess. Definitely not the standard middle-aged lady convinced her husband was running around on her. The girl’s eyes were trained on the plate glass windows at the front of the office, as if she were monitoring the street outside.
Charlie considered the time again, but what the hell? She supposed she could spare half an hour of her evening for a damsel in distress.
“OK. I’ll talk to her.”
Paige led the way to the front office, where the girl sat on the old beat-up sofa that had been a part of Uncle Frank’s office decor for longer than Charlie had been alive.
The girl was dressed in a T-shirt, a hoodie, and a pair of black jeans with strategically placed rips along the thighs. Her posture ran in stark contrast to the casual attire, however. She sat rigid and upright, shoulders back, something stiff in her neck. Charlie might have interpreted the body language as a sign of confidence if it weren’t for the way her eyes flitted about the room. OK, then. An uptight achiever trying to pass herself off as more of a slacker than she really is, Charlie thought.
“You can dress any which way you want, but you can’t hide that kind of dorkiness. It’s like trying to put lipstick on a nerd,” Allie said. “You know all about that, don’t you, Charles?”
Ignoring Allie’s comments, Charlie put her hand out and introduced herself. The girl stood to shake her hand. Her fingers were ice-cold, and Charlie wondered if it was nerves or from being out in the October weather.
“Emma Jacobis,” the girl said.
“Paige tells me you think that someone is following you?” Charlie asked, sliding into the chair behind her desk. “Is there a reason you can think of that someone might have hired a private investigator to look into you? Family drama? Boyfriend stuff?”
“Oh, no. It isn’t like that. At least I don’t think so.”
Emma fiddled with the cuff of her sweatshirt. Her lips quirked as if she was about to go on, but no words came.
Charlie’s brow furrowed. The word “tailing” conjured a very specific set of associations for her, all of them involving investigative purposes. If it wasn’t that…
Emma’s lips kept moving. It wasn’t the quirk of someone about to speak, Charlie realized. The girl was trembling. When she finally spoke again, it came out in a jumbled rush, her eyes growing wider and wider as the words left her mouth.
“It’s just… I hear things. Sometimes. At night. Bumps and thuds and… Someone’s been in my apartment, I think. I mean, I’m pretty sure. I don’t know. And… and… and… Well, I tried to tell the police, and I guess, you know, no crimes have been committed as far as they can tell, but I—”
She burst into tears mid-sentence. Her throat hitched for a second, a choked interruption to her speech. Sobs and whimpers pouring out instead of words, her lips still opening and closing like her mouth kept trying to talk, not quite aware that the rest of her body had been overcome. Water poured from her eyes, trailed down her cheeks.
Charlie had seen the girl’s emotional outburst coming, but even so, the arrival of the crying fit took her breath away. A weepy feeling crept up Charlie’s throat and into the corners of her eyes as though Emma’s tears might be contagious. She blinked hard and swallowed, rendered momentarily speechless.
Charlie handed Emma a tissue and waited for her to calm down enough to be able to explain herself. But there was one thing Charlie knew all on her own: this girl was absolutely terrified.
“Here,” Emma said when she was finally able to get words out again. She leaned over her bag, both hands digging frantically. “I found this.”
She plucked a piece of lined notebook paper from her purse and handed it to Charlie.
There was a detailed pencil drawing on the page. A portrait of a woman lying on a bed with her eyes closed. It was a beat before Charlie recognized that the drawing was of Emma.
“There’s more.” Emma’s finger shook as she pointed at the sketch clutched in Charlie’s hands. “On the back.”
The paper rustled as Charlie flipped it over.
Jagged text was scrawled on the back of the drawing in the black ink of a ballpoint pen, the letters traced over and over in spiky lettering that spelled out four words.
You could be mine.
[CN] Chapter Two
Charlie’s heart raced as she studied the page. Each letter had been traced several times over, and whoever had written it had pressed so hard with the pen nib at one point that they’d torn through the paper.
“Where did you find this?” Charlie asked.
“In my car.”
Charlie raised her eyebrows.
“Someone broke into your car?”
“Not exactly.” Emma shook her head. “One of my windows was open a crack while I was at work the other night. It was an accident, but he must have slipped it through the gap.”
That’s interesting, Charlie thought. Emma’s gut was telling her the stalker was male. Charlie knew statistically that was probable.
As for the note, Charlie thought the placement was intentional. He could have left it anywhere. In her mailbox, tucked under her windshield wiper. But he’d made sure to cross a boundary by putting the drawing inside Emma’s car. Violating a locked, private space.
It also showed that he’d been doing his homework. He knew where she worked. And while he may have simply gotten lucky by leaving the note on the night her window happened to be cracked, there was a chance it meant that he’d been waiting. Biding his time. Watching for an opening. Charlie didn’t like that notion one bit.
“When did you find the note?”
“Two days ago.” Emma fiddled with the straps of her purse. “And last night… I thought I heard someone inside my house.”
“Yeah. I mean, I’ve been pretty jittery since I found the note, so there’s a chance it’s just paranoia.”
Charlie held up the piece of notebook paper.
“It’s not paranoia when someone is leaving you things like this. You said you’ve talked to the police?”
“They took down a report. Scanned the note. But there’s only so much they can do, I guess,” Emma said, shrugging. “From their point of view, no serious crimes have been committed.”
Not yet, anyway, Charlie thought. Her fists clenched, and she was overwhelmed by a sudden flash of anger. Of course the police couldn’t help this girl. They were rarely able to do anything until after the fact, and by then it was often too late.
Almost twenty years ago, Charlie’s twin sister had gone missing. All that time, and yet the case remained unsolved. Having studied Allie’s case file over and over again, Charlie knew the police investigation had never even come close to finding an answer as to who or why or even how. They’d never found anything but the severed foot that had washed up on the beach, and that had pretty much landed in their lap.
Charlie felt her fingernails digging into the flesh of her palms and forced herself to release the tension. She inhaled deeply.
Don’t get off-track, she told herself. It did her no good to wander the same old beaten path her mind went to whenever it got the chance. Charlie had a job to do, and if she was going to help this girl, she had to focus on the here and now. Not the past.
Emma fiddled with the cuff of her sweatshirt.
“I tried to tell them about Fred, but the deputy just shrugged and said maybe I had a secret admirer.”
“Who’s Fred?” Charlie asked, thinking how lucky she would be if she already had a potential suspect to look into.
Emma crooked a finger at the notebook page.
“The stuffed rabbit in the drawing.”
Charlie flipped it over and peered down at the crosshatched pencil lines. She hadn’t noticed the stuffed animal clutched to the girl’s chest, but it was there alright. Clear as day.
“I’ve had him since I was a kid, and I still sleep with him most nights.” The girl started to tremble again, and tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. “I just keep thinking that the only way someone could know that is if they’ve watched me, right? I mean, they even knew that Fred is missing an eye.”
A chill ran up Charlie’s spine at the thought of how closely someone must have been following Emma to know such things. She was suddenly very glad she hadn’t told Paige to turn this girl away.
Flipping open her notebook, Charlie scribbled down Emma’s name and a few quick notes based on what they’d discussed so far.
“Has there been anything else?” she asked. “Phone calls? Strange gifts left for you?”
“No gifts, but my phone has rung a few times in the middle of the night. When I’ve answered, no one has been there. I started putting it on ‘do not disturb’ while I’m asleep, so I don’t know if it’s still happening.”
“The same number?”
“I’m not sure. I think it was at least two different numbers, because I remember figuring it was just some kind of telemarketing scam or something.”
Charlie made a note to check Emma’s call records. If he was smart, he was using burners or a number-spoofing app, but she’d check it out anyway.
When she glanced across the desk, Emma was crying again.
“I’m sorry,” she said, sniffling. “I was so prepared for you to turn me away, just like the police. I felt like maybe I was being crazy. Just having someone listen to me is such a relief.”
“Don’t worry,” Charlie said, passing her another tissue. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this, OK?”
“Let’s talk about your job, since that’s where the note showed up. Where do you work?”
“The Laughing Raven. I wait tables and tend bar.”
The pen in Charlie’s hand scratched against the notepad as she wrote this down.
“Notice anyone strange hanging around the bar lately? Maybe a customer who pays you a little too much attention?”
Emma shook her head.
“No, but it’s been so busy this month, I wouldn’t have noticed anything like that anyway. We do events every Friday and Saturday leading up to the big carnival thing we always do on Halloween, so it’s been packed the last two weekends. A few nights I felt like I barely had time to take a bathroom break in between pouring shots.”
Charlie didn’t love the sound of that. She’d probably have to check out the bar at some point, but she hated the idea of weeding through a few dozen college kids in search of the lone creeper. Even if she brought in Uncle Frank to help, the person stalking Emma could come and go in a crowded bar potentially without notice.
Pushing the frustration from her mind, Charlie moved on to the next possibility.
“Are you dating anyone?”
“Not right now.”
“Have you had any bad breakups?”
“Nothing like that. I’ve only really had one serious boyfriend since graduating high school.”
“And what happened with that?”
“We were both applying to grad school. I got into U of M. Tyler got into UCLA.” Emma shrugged. “Neither one of us was willing to sacrifice our school of choice for the relationship so we… let it go.”
Charlie got Tyler’s full name so she could look into him later.
“So no hard feelings, and I’m assuming he’s in California now?”
“That’s right. Last I heard he was going out with a yoga instructor he met out there, so I doubt he’s still hung up on me. And also, he has, like, no artistic ability, so I doubt he did that,” Emma said, pointing at the drawing on Charlie’s desk.
“What are you studying?”
“Psychology, but I’m taking a semester off. Well, hopefully just a semester, but it depends on how much I can make tending bar.” Emma crossed her arms. “Speaking of which, I should come right out and tell you now that I don’t have a lot of money. I assume something like this isn’t cheap.”
“Let’s not worry about the money right now, OK? We’ll figure that out later.” Charlie peered out through the windows, trying to determine how much daylight was left. “I’d like to take a look around your place, if I can.”
“Tonight?” Emma’s eyes went to the clock on the wall. “I have to be at work in half an hour.”
“That’s fine. I can poke around on my own, and if I have questions for you, I’ll give you a call.”
“OK,” Emma said, bobbing her head.
Charlie closed her notebook and lifted the drawing of Emma by one corner.
“And I’d like to get a copy of this before you go.”
“Just keep it,” Emma said, shuddering. “I’m sick of looking at it.”
“I can imagine.”
At the door, Emma turned back, and Charlie could see she was on the brink of tears again.
“Thank you,” she said with a sigh. “Thank you for taking me seriously.”
Charlie put her hand on the girl’s arm.
“You’re not alone in this anymore, Emma. We’re going to get through this together.”
[CN] Chapter Three
The bottom edge of the sun was grazing the top of the treeline when Charlie pulled into Emma Jacobis’ driveway. The house was a single-story duplex with yellow siding, set back from the road and partly shielded from view by a cluster of bushes that were reaching peak redness.
Charlie got out of her car and glanced around. She’d been hoping there’d be neighbors who might have spotted a stranger or an unknown vehicle hanging around in recent weeks, something that might lead to a description of the stalker or his car. But now that she was here, Charlie thought that was unlikely.
Emma’s house was nestled in thick foliage. Even if he had been foolish enough to park in such a conspicuous place, he wouldn’t have been able to see Emma from the street. Her unit of the duplex was almost completely concealed by the bushes out front.
No. He would have had to get closer if he wanted to watch her. And if he approached on foot, which Charlie thought the most likely, he could easily stay hidden in the heavy leafage of the terrain.
Charlie went to the side of Emma’s unit, scanning for any little detail that might be out of place. A slit screen on a window. An errant cigarette butt. Her eyes fell on a matted patch of grass right at the base of the foundation. Charlie stopped and glanced around. The whole . . .
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