Krentz’s latest romantic thriller released on January 8, 2019.
She heard the key in the lock. The door opened. The creep was silhouetted against the light of the hallway fixture, a balding, big-bellied man dressed in an undershirt and trousers.
He did not see her sitting there in the shadows of the upper bunk. He moved into the room, heading toward the lower bunk.
He reached down and started to pull the covers off of Alice’s thin, huddled body.
“Go away, Mr. Tyler,” Winter said. She switched on the penlight and began to move it in an intricate pattern. “You’re not supposed to be here. You don’t want to be here.”
She kept her voice calm; soothing but firm.
Startled, Tyler halted and instinctively averted his gaze from the narrow beam of light.
“What the hell?” In the next breath he softened his voice to a drunken croon. “What’s the matter, honey? Couldn’t sleep? I know it’s hard adjusting to a new house and a new family. But you’re in a good home now. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll take care of you and Alice.”
“Go away, Mr. Tyler,” Winter said again. She kept the penlight moving, faster now.
Tyler was distracted by the light. He stared at; looked away and then gazed at it again.
“I’m going to take poor little Alice to my bedroom,” he said. “She’s afraid to be alone.”
“Alice is not alone,” Winter said. “I’m here with her. Go away. You don’t want to be in this room. It’s hard to breathe when you come in here. You can’t catch your breath. Your heart is pounding harder and harder. You wonder if you’re having a heart attack.”
Tyler did not respond. He was transfixed by the motion of the light. He started to wheeze.
“When I say Winnie-the-Pooh you will realize that you can’t breathe at all when you’re in this room,” Winter said. “You will leave. That is the only way to ease the terrible pain in your chest. If you stay in this room you will have a heart attack. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Tyler’s voice was now that of a man in a trance; expressionless.
The rasping and wheezing got louder.
“Winnie-the-Pooh,” Winter said in a tone of soft command.
Tyler came out of the trance gasping for air.
“Can’t breathe,” he said, his voice hoarse with panic. He swung around and lurched out into the hallway. “My heart. Can’t breathe.”
He staggered down the hallway and stumbled toward the kitchen. Winter jumped down to the floor.
“Winter?” Alice whispered from the shadows of the lower bunk.
“It’s okay,” Winter said. “But you have to get up and get dressed. We’re going to leave now.”
A heavy thud sounded from the kitchen. It was followed by an unnatural silence.
“What happened?” Alice asked.
“Stay here,” Winter said. “I’ll go take a look.”
She went to the door. With the penlight in hand she moved cautiously down the hall. Alice climbed out of bed but she did not wait in the bedroom. She followed Winter.
Tyler was sprawled on the kitchen floor. He did not move. His phone was on the floor close to his hand. Panic arced through Winter. She wondered if she had killed the creep.
Alice came up beside her and took her hand, clinging very tightly. She looked at Tyler’s motionless body.
“Is he dead?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Winter said. “I’ll check.”
She squeezed Alice’s hand and then freed her fingers to cross the kitchen floor. She stopped a short distance away from Tyler and tried to think about what to do next. In the movies and on television people checked the throat of an unconscious person to find out if there was a pulse.
Gingerly she reached down and put two fingers on Tyler’s neck. She thought she detected a faint beat but she couldn’t be certain. He might not be dead yet but it was possible that he was dying. It was also possible that he was simply unconscious and would recover at any moment. Winter knew that neither outcome would be good for Alice or herself.