They are starting a new life in a new town, Stutter Creek. She’s even met a
real man. A gentle wild life biologist named Chet Boone. But now, her ex has
been released from prison early. Is that him driving past their new house late
at night? Is he the one causing the strange sounds and flickering lights? Can
they survive a second round with a madman?
rescue pets. Return to Stutter Creek is the second book in this Romantic
Suspense series, the first being the aptly named, Stutter Creek. Ann’s first book with 5 Prince Publishing was All For Love, a heartbreaking story of
ill-fated romance. She is also the author of The Phantom Series. Book One
is Stevie-girl and the Phantom Pilot, Book Two is Stevie-girl and the Phantom Student, and Book Three is Stevie-girl and the Phantom of Crybaby Bridge. Ann has also published short fiction in the
anthologies Timeless (paranormal love
stories) and Tales of Terror (horror)
as well as a speculative short story, Chems.
Her current work-in-progress is a full-length horror novel. When she isn’t writing, Ann is reading. Her to-be-read list has grown so large it has taken on a life of its own. She calls it Herman.
going to visit Nana all the time, and I’m hoping she’ll come to visit us a lot,
too. We’ll even fix up the spare bedroom just for her.”
the porch steps of their new rental. It was a quaint old house that had seen
better days, but the realtor assured her that all the important stuff, like
plumbing and wiring, had been recently updated. It was only the exterior that
needed a little TLC. “Well, that we
can do,” Ella had replied. “I’ve painted a few houses in my time. My dad was a
carpenter. One of my greatest joys was helping him finish out the houses he
built.” Maybe if we paint it we can get a break on the rent, she thought. But
she didn’t say anything. They had more than enough to worry about at the
Nick pouted, interrupting her reverie. He trudged up the steps behind his mom.
were packing and moving, but now that they were here, it had suddenly become
sweetie, I wish we could have stayed put, too. But this little diner—they call
it The Drugstore—just beckoned me.” She glanced down and smoothed the hair
she’d just tousled. She never came right out and told him they moved specifically
to hide from his stepfather. She just tried to make it sound like one big
adventure. “We could never have bought anything like this back home. The prices
here are half what they are in the city. And there is only one other eating
establishment in the whole town—if you don’t count the convenience store—and I
don’t.” She squeezed his shoulder. “I hope you understand. I just didn’t want
to keep waiting tables forever. I want more, for me and for you.”
carrying on the sofa. Fortunately it held only books.
remembered the bright red handprint on his cheek the day she’d left him in Anson’s
care. It was the day she’d been called into work unexpectedly. Up until then,
her mom had always kept Nick. When Anson tried to tell her Nick had been
disrespectful, thus giving him cause
for a face-slap, she’d become so distraught he wound up shoving her across the
kitchen. When she told him to leave, he’d simply laughed and shoved her again. This
time, her face hit the doorframe. Then he went back to the bedroom and packed her suitcase. But Ella was no one’s
victim. She called the police and had him arrested. She never slapped her
child, she certainly wasn’t going to stand idly by and let someone else do it. When
the officers arrived, Anson was convinced he could talk his way out of going to
the senior officer. “He ain’t mine, you know. Takes after his mother. Or maybe
his old man; who knows? That worthless piece never even claimed him. Now I see
why. Too bad I didn’t know this before I took them in and gave them a home.” He
was talking to the gray-haired cop as if they were sharing confidences over
coffee. He seemed to think every man felt the way he did. Ella assumed it was
the beer talking. Once he got started drinking, things usually got ugly. But
this was the first time they’d gotten physical.
with Nick safely ensconced behind her. “Does he need to see a doctor?” the
younger officer asked.
standing out on his face like day-glo under black light, Ella shook her head. “No,
he’ll be okay as long as we get away from that madman.” Her eyes were crusty where
she’d accidentally wiped blood from her cheek into her lashes.
and file an official report. But first, the hospital for an x-ray.” The officer
nodded toward her swelling cheek. “I’m no doctor, but I think you’ve got a
that. They mixed with the smear of blood and left red trails down her face. “I
feel so stupid,” she said. “How could I have let this happen?”
happen, and you didn’t cause it. You’re going to follow through and get him put
away.” He hesitated as if gauging his next words carefully. “And you won’t back
out when it comes time to testify. You won’t go back to him and make all this
night’s work be for nothing, right?”
course I won’t go back to him. I’m not that
happens,” the officer replied. “You would be surprised.”
she could drive herself to the hospital. She didn’t want to start off her
single life with a huge ambulance bill hanging over her head.
saw the senior officer snap the cuffs on Anson.
in between curse words. “I’ll sue the whole department. I’ll have your fucking
job! What’s your badge number? It ain’t no crime to swat a smart mouth kid. Especially
not one as worthless as that punk.” When he said that, he turned and looked
right at her and Nick.
house without having to confront him.
against the cuffs. His face turned the exact shade of an overripe plum, eyes
bugging out as if they would leap on Nick and Ella and finish the beating. “Both
of ‘em. Not worth shit!” He lunged forward, catching the officer off balance.
Anson’s back and took him to the floor.
be sorry they did this to me!”
Nick and hurried them outside. “A woman from Children’s Services will meet you
at the hospital to look after him and take your story.”
mother. She’ll meet us there, too. She’ll help us. I know she will. Please,
don’t let anyone take my boy.”
down,” he’d said. “No one’s going to take your boy.”
icon on her cell phone.
back of her mind and crossed into the kitchen where she deposited her own box
full of dishes and various utensils. “As soon as we get the rest of these boxes
unloaded, we’ll go to The Drugstore, then explore a bit.”
but Ella hadn’t trusted them with her grandmother’s china. She also had several
more boxes in the Jeep that contained photos and artwork taken from the walls
of their old house. It had been a cramped ride to their new home, but now that
they were here, in the mountains, Ella was thankful they had the Wrangler. The
roads were beautiful but steep. Even the driveway leading up to the house was
narrow and uneven.
if it doesn’t work out, we can always go back to Nana’s house. The thought stuck
in her craw, though. Not only did she hate the thought of going back to mama,
but Anson had made such ugly threats when she had him arrested, she was afraid
to be anywhere near him, even if he was in the county jail. It was obvious how
much he had grown to despise both her and Nick. He blamed her for every bad thing
that had happened—even though he was the one who hurt them.
was a permanent indentation there; small, hardly noticeable, but what would it
have looked like the next time she did something that displeased him? And what
would Nick look like the next time he “swatted” him? How long before it
escalated to closed fist rather than open-handed slap?
someone so mean and hateful. Of course, he hadn’t been either of those things
in the beginning. She recalled all the news stories of wives who had married men
who turned out to be psychopaths in disguise. When the wife disappeared, the
authorities almost always looked at the husband first. One woman disappeared
right off the cruise ship while they were on their honeymoon. Another
disappeared when she discovered her husband had been lying about being a med
student. Her body was later found in the local landfill. And what about that
poor pregnant woman whose husband sunk her body in the ocean? She had been
eight months pregnant.
thought. Especially when they seek to deceive.
time she’d heard it from inside the house. Her first inclination was to call
out, “Come on in!” but her second thought was to yell at Nick not to answer it.
She compromised by hurrying toward the door. “Just a minute, I’m coming!”
kitchen and the living room, she could see a woman standing outside the door.
she said. “From next door, well, you know, down the road.” She grinned and
indicated the direction with a wave of her hand. All the houses in this area
were set back from the road at the end of their own stumpy, humpy driveways. Each
one occupied several acres separated from each other by tall pines and junipers.
forehead and smiled. “Saw you two unloading boxes and thought I’d stop by and offer
to help. My husband is a long-haul trucker, hardly ever home. So I know how
welcome an extra pair of hands can be.”
though she wondered how Norma could possibly know it was just the two of them. How does she know I don’t have a husband lurking
Norma said, as if she’d read Ella’s thoughts. “Your realtor is my second cousin.
She told me to check in on you guys and make sure you were getting settled.” She
held up a small brown bag that Ella hadn’t even noticed hanging from her arm. “Brownies,”
come in. “Nick will love those. Thank you so much. And trust me, we’d welcome
another set of hands if you’re sure you don’t mind.”
her arm. “Just point me in the right direction.”
their new neighbor, and then she showed him the brownies.
politely. “Do you have any kids?”
only daughter is grown and gone. She hasn’t even blessed me with grandchildren
sympathetic. “We’ve got a wonderful little school here in Stutter Creek. You’ll
make lots of friends. Besides,” her face grew thoughtful. “I’ve got a godson
who is just a bit younger than you. His name is Danny and he just turned
eight.” She glanced at Ella. “I’ll be glad to introduce the two of them—well,
all of you, of course, when you’re ready. Beth and John are excellent parents. In
fact, Beth is a teacher at Stutter Creek Elementary.”
the way to the kitchen. “Nick is in fifth grade,” she said. “What grade does
believe she teaches fifth grade? Will wonders never cease?”
can’t wait to meet her.”
haven’t bought any groceries yet.” She opened the bag containing the homemade
brownies. “But as soon as we finish unloading the Jeep, I’ll run to town and
get some milk to go with these.”
wheedled, obviously won over by the cook. “I don’t have to have milk.”
his response. He was just like her when it came to chocolate. “Of course you
may.” She handed him a still-warm square and pinched off a little taste for
herself. “Sit at the table, kiddo,” she instructed. “I have no idea where the
napkins are. Hmmm, these are delicious.”
into the first moist bite.
the Jeep and began carrying in the rest of the boxes.
appropriate rooms. Ella’s mom had insisted on labeling each one with a giant
Sharpie while helping them pack up the house back in Albuquerque. “Half the
work is done in the preparation,” she’d said. Ella hated to admit it, but it
had made unloading things a lot easier. Even the movers had commented on it.
waiting to be unpacked, Norma insisted it was time for her to go. But she
invited them to come over for a visit. “Just stop by anytime,” she said. “It’s
the first one on your right when you head back toward town.”
grocery store?” Ella glanced out the front window. “I don’t see your car.”
curls bouncing. “I walked. It’s my greatest pleasure, walking these hilly roads.
Good for my heart and my hips.” She winked at Ella. “Besides, it’s only a mile.”
she said. “Once we get things all figured out, maybe I’ll just join you sometime.”
Nicky, too. We’ve got lots of wildlife in these old woods. And I know a trail
that goes straight from my house to yours.”
that. We lived in town before.”
chance you get, you two stop by and we’ll go exploring.”
turned and gave a little wave. Just past the edge of the drive, she headed into
the woods. Ella could see the beginning of the trail—in another moment, Norma
Guess the woods are thicker than I thought. That gave her a moment’s pause. Finding such a bargain for
rent seemed ideal yesterday, but now she wasn’t so sure. Yep. We definitely have to explore that trail. Face the unknown. Otherwise,
I’ll be imagining all sorts of things lurking there. Anson’s face popped
into her head. But not him, she thought. He’s in jail. And when he does get
out, he has no way of finding us.
away tendrils of brunette hair that had escaped her ponytail.
for a caramel pie,” she told Nick as they drove into town. “I’ll make one for
Norma to thank her for coming over and helping us get settled.”
patting his midsection comically. “I liked her. I can’t wait to check out that
trail. You think we could camp out in the woods behind the house? Please?”
gets too cold. But I guess we’d need a tent, right?”
and a lantern, you know to see by, and—”
buy all this stuff!”
butter colored trim on the right side of the road. The house sat back behind a
lush garden of fall mums, bright purple kale, and shiny green holly bushes
graced with tiny red berries. “Must be Norma’s house,” Ella said. “Wonder how
long it takes her to walk a mile anyhow?”
her house and back in no time!”
bet you could.”