Just the other day we announced that Andrew E. Kaufman’s suspense-filled THE LION, THE LAMB, THE HUNTED was our new Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt, and we’re happy to share the news that this terrific read is still just $2.99 for Kindle Nation readers during its TOTW reign, or FREE for Amazon Prime Members via Kindle Lending Library!
by Andrew E. Kaufman
From Andrew E. Kaufman, author of the #1 bestseller, While the Savage Sleeps…
SHE ONLY STEPPED OUTSIDE FOR A MINUTE…
But a minute was all it took to turn Jean Kingsley’s world upside down–a minute she’d regret for the rest of her life.
STEPPING INTO HER WORST NIGHTMARE…
Because when she returned, she found an open bedroom window and her three-year-old son, Nathan, gone. The boy would never be seen again.
A NIGHTMARE THAT ONLY BECAME WORSE.
A tip leads detectives to the killer, a repeat sex offender, and inside his apartment, a gruesome discovery. A slam-dunk trial sends him off to death row, then several years later, to the electric chair.
CASE CLOSED. JUSTICE SERVED…OR WAS IT?
Now, more than thirty years later, Patrick Bannister unwittingly stumbles across evidence among his dead mother’s belongings–it paints her as the killer and her brother, a wealthy and powerful senator, as the one pulling the strings.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO NATHAN KINGSLEY?
There’s a hole in the case a mile wide, and Patrick is determined to close it. But what he doesn’t know is that the closer he moves toward the truth, the more he’s putting his life on the line, that he’s become the hunted. Someone’s hiding a dark secret and will stop at nothing to keep it that way.
The clock is ticking, the walls are closing, and the stakes are getting higher as he races to find a killer–one who’s hot on his trail. One who’s out for his blood.
I loved Andrew E. Kaufman’s book! An excellent, suspenseful story that I found difficult to put down. It is Andrew’s second novel, and he has another best-seller for sure with this one. I loved the first-person narrative and it worked so well with his protagonist reporter, Patrick Bannister. Andrew’s characterizations, dialogue, suspense, and intrigue will keep you turning the pages of his book to see where he takes you next. An enjoyable, great read. Andrew will again hit the best-seller lists with The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted, as he did with While the Savage Sleeps.
-Linda Pendleton, Amazon, 5 Stars
Another great book from Andrew Kauffman. This book really captured my attention and my heart from page one. The story simply unwrapped itself perfectly for me and had me wanting for more right away. The main character Patrick was a true delight to get to know and I really cared about what was happening to him. The horrors that Patrick faced as a child were so realistic and not at all hard to imagine happening.
Although different from his first book, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted is a great follow-up you shouldn’t pass up.
– Amazon Reviewer, 5 Stars
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Black Lake cemetery was a study in contrasts. A velvety lawn, vibrant and lush, shrouded by people in dark attire with vacant expressions—all aimed toward the focal point, a slick mahogany casket perched over a shadowy hole.
I allowed my eyes to settle there for a moment, along with my thoughts, but nothing good came of it, just a grim and sobering realization.
There wasn’t enough dirt on this earth to bury that much evil.
I forced my attention away from my mother’s grave, fidgeted with my tie to loosen the knot. This place was hotter than the hinges of hell, an oppressive blanket of humidity and temperatures climbing to heights so ambitious that even my eyelids were sweating. Summertime in Georgia, just as I’d always remembered. I hadn’t been back in years. I hadn’t missed much. Listening to the preacher, I felt like I was attending a funeral for a stranger—and in a way, I was. Dedicated and loving? I must have missed that day.
I moved on to the crowd, recognized less than half of them. An outsider looking in—that’s all I was—surrounded by sharp glares and astonished whispers:What’s he doing here?
So nobody expected me to show. I got that. Not sure I expected me to show. Don’t know why, but I felt compelled to do it. I suppose some part of me needed to close the door on her once and for all, to see she was really gone.
Cancer of the spine. Apparently she’d complained of back pain for months but never bothered seeing a doctor. Typically stubborn, and she paid the price for it. Diagnosis to death: less than three weeks. I arrived just in time to see her go.
It had been at least fifteen years since I’d last seen my mother. I found a mere shadow of the woman I remembered: thin, frail, and conscious only long enough to hiss her parting words at me. All three of them.
“Fix your hair.”
That was it. That was her. With all the pain and suffering, her venom still managed to find its way to the surface one last time.
Then she drifted off. Never opened those joyless eyes again.
The crowd began to disperse. I turned from her coffin and began walking to my car. Then I heard a faint, familiar voice behind me. I glanced back and saw Uncle Warren doubling his steps to catch up. Too late to pretend I didn’t hear him.
“Doing okay, Patrick?” he asked, sidling up beside me, his tone a strange hybrid of disingenuous and awkward concern.
I forced a polite smile, kept walking. “Fine. You?”
“All right, I suppose.” He let out a long, labored sigh, as if the moment required it. “You know…it’s hard, all this.”
I half-smiled, half-nodded. Half believed him. And kept walking with my gaze on the pavement.
“So,” he said. The sudden, bright tone in his voice startled me. “How’re things at the magazine?”
“Great. You know…busy.”
A seemingly endless pause stretched between us, and then he said abruptly, “Your momma was a good woman.”
It sounded more like an argument than a fact. I gave no response. The comment didn’t deserve one. I also wondered when senators started using words like “momma.”
He continued, “You’re still coming by the house to take care of the paperwork? Right?”
I nodded tentatively. Apparently, he’d set up a trust account for me years ago. I didn’t need his money, didn’t want it, and I planned on telling him so. I just figured his sister’s gravesite wasn’t the place to do it.
“And I hope you’ll stay in town for a bit,” he added.
“Leaving tomorrow,” I replied, a little too quickly.
“Then maybe you can come by the house, see if there’s anything you want. You know, sentimental items.”
That stopped me in my tracks. I stared at him for a long moment, then said, “You just don’t get it, Warren, do you?”
I looked away, shook my head.
He started to say something, stopped, then let out a quiet, exasperated sigh.
I reached for my car keys, fumbled with them, then felt his hand on my shoulder. I don’t know why, but something really bumps at my nerves when people do that, and Warren always did it a lot. It wasn’t the only reason I found him irritating, but it was one of them.
“Patrick,” he said, with a stern and level stare. The hand stayed on my shoulder. “I’d really like for us to have some quality time together.”
I thumbed through my keys some more without looking at him, my discomfort swelling to colossal proportions.
“You know,” he continued, his tone now bordering on preachy, “you could spare a little time for family.”
Then he paused and stared at me as if waiting for a response.
I gave none.
Instead, I got in my car, drove away.
I pulled up the winding drive that led to Warren’s mansion, a garish, white monstrosity on the edge of Lake Hathaway. Think modern-day Tara, surrounded by water and screaming “new money.” I’d spent a good part of my childhood here. My mother liked to drop me off under the pretense of having a weekend with Warren—male-bonding time, I guess—but really it was more a dumping ground than anything else, a way to get me out of her hair. Not that I minded. I came from a less-than-modest cookie-cutter bungalow, and Warren’s spread was like a trip to Disneyland. I swam, boated on the lake, and played on the twelve-plus acres. Warren was usually away on business, and it was like having the place all to myself along with a staff of ten waiting on my every need.
I walked into the living room, and swear to God, it was as if time stood still: every conversation killed, every head turned, and every eye trained on me. Awkward doesn’t come close to describing what I felt as I moved through the crowd, disapproval hovering over me like a menacing cloud. I pretended that I didn’t care, but inside I knew this was a big mistake.
What the hell was I thinking?
Actually, that was the problem; I hadn’t been.
Realizing it was too late to turn around, that I’d look even more foolish if I did, I got the hell out of there and headed toward the one place where I knew I could find refuge: the library.
I descended the steps, walked inside, and breathed in its distinctive scent, the one I loved: paper and binding glue, seasoned by time. The combination had a calming effect on me as a kid and was doing the same now. I felt my nerves untangle.
I loved it here, loved everything about it, the way it looked with the endless array of books stacked across all four walls, the feeling of running my fingers across the leather-bound spines. I’d often sit in the corner, sometimes for hours, lost in imaginary exploration. For me, reading was adventure, but most of all, reading was escape—escape from a life I never understood. Opening a book felt like taking a trip someplace else. Someplace better. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, the Hardy Boys—these were my friends. It didn’t matter that they weren’t real; they were there, always, whenever I needed them. And the best part: she couldn’t go with me.
I walked across the mirror-slick wood floors, then reached up to a shelf for Oliver Twist. Running my fingers over the words, I smiled and remembered.
I swung around to find Tracy Gallagher grinning at me. The sight of her made my heart speed up, but I wasn’t sure if it was the hormones or the nerves—probably both. She was older now, but man, she still looked great.
I guess you could say Tracy was my first love; the only problem was she never knew it. She lived three houses down from me, and I would have moved heaven, earth, and everything in between to be with her. A classic case of unrequited love. We were good friends while we were young—that is, until adolescence set in. Then the social pecking order kicked into gear, and away she went, straight to the top with me falling somewhere near the bottom. I don’t think she ever meant it to be that way—just one of those things, I guess. We drifted apart, but I never forgot her.
“It’s been a long time,” she said, walking to me. Her smile was warm. “How’ve you been?”
“I’m well, Tracy.You?”
She moved past me, and for a split second, I caught her scent. Something linen mixed with something floral, and in that instant, it was high school all over again.
Gazing up at a shelf, she shrugged. “I’m okay, I guess. You know… husband, two kids, living out in the burbs. Never got out of this place. Smart move on your part that you did.”
Not like I had a choice, I thought as I put Oliver back on his shelf. “Doesn’t look like much’s changed around here.”
“Nope,” she said through a restless sigh, “it never does.”
“Hot and muggy with a chance of showers by afternoon?”
She grinned, still studying the rows of books. “You got it.” Then she turned to me. “So. A famous writer now. Pretty impressive.”
I shrugged. “Just a news magazine.”
“Modest…you always were.”
“About as unassuming as they came.”
I returned my gaze to the shelf, nodded.
“I have to say, though, I was kind of surprised to see you came back.”
“You and everyone else,” I said through a forced laugh. “I’m not exactly the town’s Favorite Son.”
She dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. “Screw ‘em,”
“Right,” I said, and grinned. “Screw ‘em.”
“But you look good, Pat. You really do. I’m glad things got better for you after the…”
“The overdose,” I said quickly, as if by doing so it might take away her discomfort.
“Yeah.” She fell silent for a moment and pushed her hair behind one ear. It was a nervous habit she’d had since childhood. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“No. It’s okay. I’m fine with it. Really.”
She offered a thin smile.
“Can I ask you something, though? Was I the only one who thought she was evil?”
An unsettled expression crossed Tracy’s face, and then she turned her head away, shaking it. “Everyone thought she was kind of crazy, I guess. The ones who wanted to see it.”
“Want to see it?”
“Did you know?”
She turned back toward me, but this time her expression was easy to read. “I should have done something that day, Patrick. I should have stayed and listened.”
That day. My stomach twisted into a knot. I struggled against my thoughts, pushed the words out slowly,“But you had no way of knowing…”
“I knew,” she said, nodding, and then softer, “I knew. I was just…afraid.”
“Of the other kids. Of her. Of…everything, I guess. “ She looked down, hair behind the ear again. “I just left you there. Alone. It was all my fault.”
I lost Tracy’s voice and quite possibly my mind. The knot pulled tighter in my gut, and suddenly everything came rushing back to me. I was there again, living the nightmare. White light. White noise.
I snapped back to the present, stared at her with what I knew was a dazed expression. The lump in my throat made it damned near impossible to speak, my voice coming out gritty and tight. “I’m fine.”
“Yeah…look, I’d better go back upstairs.”
“Fine, really.” I attempted a smile, then pushed past her. Headed up the staircase, quickly, and straight for the bathroom.
I locked the door behind me. My back against the wall, eyes closed, I took in a long steadying breath. A thousand thoughts rushed through my head. A thousand memories.
Then I pulled the pad from my pocket, and with shaky hands, wrote the word vicious fifty times.
In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas wrote that houses have souls and faces like men, and their exteriors carry the imprint of their characters. To me, our house always looked dark and ominous, a shadowy projection of the horrors inside its silent, secretive walls. As a kid, I remember staring out through those dreary windows and wondering whether the world outside was as awful as the one within. Bad memories lived there. Horrible ones.
I decided to take Warren’s advice and go back anyway—not for sentiment, as he’d suggested, but to rid myself of those memories. I needed to go through the place, chase away my ghosts, and then walk out that front door one last time.
But going inwas another story.
I stood in the doorway and felt my nerves jangle with slow-burning apprehension. Bad vibes seemed to rock this place from its foundation. I stepped in, stopped, then looked around.
She’d done most of her dying here before moving on to Hospice, but as I walked in, I could still feel a sense of approaching death hanging heavy in the air. Stillness, but not the kind that lent itself to peace or tranquility—no, this was something different, a life waiting to end and a peculiar numbness that seemed to resonate throughout.
The kind that gnaws at your insides.
Warren had obviously hired a cleaning crew to wipe away the postmortem effects, everything in its place, not a speck of dirt anywhere. An oxygen tank covered in plastic stood in one corner; in another, an empty trash container sat on the counter. I gazed at the bed: neatly made. A sanitized version of hell, I thought, then moved on.
I peered into my former bedroom and shook my head. She’d wasted little time converting it into her sewing room once I’d left for college.
“I put your things in the garage,” she’d said matter-of-factly at Thanksgiving break. “Take what you want. The rest goes to Goodwill.”
Great to see you, son.
Moving on to the living room, I gave it a quick scan and then a drawn-out sigh; nothing ever seemed to change here. Those tattered drapes. The outdated television. I thought about that damned music box, and a sharp pang of anger flickered, then fizzled. The thing meant more to her than I did.
As filthy-rich as my uncle was, I never understood why my mother insisted we live in such lower-middle class squalor. Was it to elicit sympathy? Because she never thought she deserved better? Warren offered repeatedly to get us out of here.
“Camilla,” he’d plead, “let me help you. You don’t have to live this way.”
“Don’t need any charity,” she’d say in her typically dismissive tone. “I can manage on my own.”
So we existed on a meager income, inside a two-bedroom box, and in a part of town that people kindly referred to as “undesirable.” Our threadbare, second-hand furniture had the smell of other people’s lives—ones I was sure had been much better than mine—and I wore clothes to school that had outlived their usefulness on someone else’s back before landing on mine.
“You don’t need fancy new clothes,” she’d tell me in her singsong voice. “What you have is just fine.”
God, I hated that woman.
Warren did his best to help, gifting me with what she wouldn’t provide, but I always sensed it was more because he felt sorry for me than anything else. He never really succeeded in being the stand-in male figure in my life, seemed he always radiated more pity than love. I knew the difference—most kids do—so I grew up resenting his misplaced, half-hearted attempts.
And I resented even more that he could have put an end to my mother’s abuse, but didn’t. Instead, he chose to look the other way, always immersed in his political career, running here, running there to God-knows-where.
My real dad died when I was barely a year old, and I only knew three things about him. His name was Richard, he had a bad heart—which eventually killed him—and he worked in the textile business. As a kid, it took me a while to figure out what that actually meant. For the longest time I thought he remodeled bathrooms.
Oh, make that four things. He left my mother with the burden of raising me alone, as she reminded me constantly.
When I turned eighteen, I put as much distance between her and me as I could. Warren offered to foot the bill for college, and I ran with it, seeing it as my one-way ticket out of hell. I moved as far away as I could. Odd, though, how distance doesn’t always separate us from the bad memories and associations as much as we’d like. Even now that she was dead, her effects still lingered.
I opened the basement door and turned on the light—or tried. A naked yellow bulb dangling from the ceiling flickered a few times before going dark. I flipped the switch up and down, hoping to give it life, but with no luck: blown.
Found an old flashlight in the kitchen junk drawer, but true to form, she’d let the batteries die. It seemed as if nothing here was meant to survive.
The clock radio on the kitchen windowsill stole my attention, and I froze. Bad memories, everywhere. I couldn’t believe she still had the damned thing. I reached for it, pulled the batteries out, then slammed it into the sink. Felt a note of satisfaction hearing it crack.
Got the flashlight working and headed for the basement steps.
It looked as if nobody had been here in years. Old sewing equipment hugged one wall: an antiquated machine, three tailor’s dummies, and enough spools of thread to mend a small nation. Her sewing hobby never really got off the ground, despite all the supplies she’d picked up at garage sales. The floor was strewn with boxes covered in dust, cobwebs stretched between them, some labeled with marker, some not at all.
I pulled the lids up on a few but found nothing other than a whole lot of junk inside. Dozens of dusty, colored bottles in one; another was filled to the brim with packages of crackers, expiration date: October, 1983.
What on earth was she planning on doing with them?
Finding anything useful here was an exercise in futility. But then as I headed back toward the steps, the flashlight beam connected with an open box, and I could see an old book that looked vaguely familiar. I pulled it out. Gulliver’s Travels, one of my favorites. Curiosity got the best of me, so I examined the rest of the contents. More books from high school, a jumble of papers, and small objects that I couldn’t see clearly in the dim light. I tucked the box under my arm, then headed upstairs.
As I reached the top of the steps, Warren moved into the doorway. I jumped. He stood, staring at me.
“Scared the hell out of me,” I said, feeling my heart thump a few beats ahead.
“Find anything?” he asked, eyeing the box under my arm.
I felt an odd twinge of defensiveness. “Just some old books.”
He nodded slowly as if measuring my words. I broke eye contact by glancing down at the box I was holding, keeping my attention on it as I spoke. “Not much down there except a whole lot of clutter, really.”
“Quite a pack rat, your mother was. She never liked to throw anything away. It drove me crazy when we were kids. I think she got it from our mother. She was like that too, you know.”
Small talk. I offered a dim smile.
“You know,” he continued, staring off into the kitchen, his voice tempered with cautious diplomacy, “I was just thinking I could drive you to the airport if you’d like. Maybe get a bite to eat or something on the way.”
“Appreciate it,” I said, glancing at my watch, “but I don’t have much time. My flight leaves in an hour-and-a-half, and I’ve got a rental car to return.”
He mouthed—but did not say—oh, while nodding, as if suddenly getting the point. “No worries, then,” he said, a little too brightly. “I just thought maybe—”
“Some other time,” I answered back quickly, realizing I was squeezing the box tightly against my thigh. I caught myself eyeing the door, the one I wanted to walk out of for the last time, the one Warren was now blocking.
He stared at the floor and pursed his lips. I knew the move all too well—a mannerism he’d perfected throughout his political career, one he often used to give the impression he was thinking things over. “There’s this matter of the house,” he finally said. “I’m putting it up for sale. I’d like you to have the proceeds.”
I shook my head quickly. “That won’t be necessary, Warren, I—”
“No, really,” he interrupted, “I’d like for you to have the money.”
“No, really,” I said, feeling my anger swell. “I really don’t want it. Give the money to charity. It’ll be the one good deed that ever came out of her.”
He looked at the floor again, pushed out a heavy sigh.
“You know, Patrick…” You know, Patrick always meant trouble coming.
“I realize you and your mother didn’t always see eye to eye.”
“Never,” I replied.
“I said, never. We never did.”
“But she was my sister, and she’s dead now,” he said, his tone climbing the ladder of edginess, “and I’d appreciate it if you’d try and show some respect for her when you’re around me.”
“Respect?” That was it. I’d had enough. Enough of Warren, enough of her and this house, enough of everything. All I wanted now, was out. “You see, here’s the thing, Warren: you have to give respect to get it, and she never gave one ounce of it. Not one.”
“But she was your mother.”
“Barely,” I said. “Now if you’ll excuse me.” I pushed past him and headed for the door.
“Patrick!” he shouted. “Don’t leave this way. I don’t want bad feelings.”
“You’re about thirty years too late for that, Warren.” As I jerked the door open, the box slipped from under my arm to the floor, and everything inside scattered. I got down on my hands and knees, started hastily shoving items back inside.
Warren hurried over. “Let me help you with that.”
“I don’t need your help!” I said. “I don’t need it at all! You’ve done enough!”
He knelt beside me anyway, and we both grabbed for Gulliver’s Travels at the same time. I gritted my teeth and yanked the book away with force, startling him. He held my gaze for a moment in total silence.
I scrambled to my feet, stood, rubbing my wrist.
“Are you hurt?” Warren asked.
“A scratch. It’s nothing.”
Warren stood up, “Let me take a look.”
He reached for my hand. “Seriously, Patrick, let me—”
I pulled it away. “I said it’s fine. I’m not going to bleed to death. Okay?”
“But you could…you know you could.”
“It’s not that deep,” I said, turning toward the door, anxious to get out of this house and away from Warren.
“Patrick!” he shouted to me, “Wait a minute!”
“I said, no. It’s over.”
He started to say something else, but I didn’t hear it; I was already out the door. Walking away. Done.
Finally. Once and for all.
Inside the car, I immediately reached into my shirt pocket, then panicked. I’d left my pen and pad at the hotel.
Breathing heavily now, sweat crawling down the back of my neck, I began rifling through the glove compartment like a madman looking for a fix. Found an old map and a broken pencil, the point flattened. With shaky hands I scrawled fragile three times, barely readable, before the pencil tip broke off. I hurled it against the windshield as hard as I could, then felt tears rolling down my cheeks.
I closed my eyes and dropped my head onto the steering wheel, keeping it there for a long time.
If I never saw Black Lake again, it would be too soon.
From my earliest memories, my mother’s moments of affection were as fleeting as they were inconsistent. Not many encouraging smiles or gentle touches, and the ones she gave often felt flat and shallow. She carried herself as if to discourage human contact, if not block it entirely. When I was young, I’d often grab for her hand as we walked, but she’d quickly pull it out of reach; the reaction seemed almost instinctual, like flinching from a blow or pulling a finger from a hot flame. Even as we moved through stores or crowded streets, I’d often find myself several feet behind, chasing after her, trying to keep up.
Once before bedtime in a half knee-jerk, half desperate bid for affection, I threw my arms around her; but I might as well have been reaching around a giant boulder, hard and cold. Her entire body grew stiff and unyielding, and she turned her head away.
Feeling rejected and confused, I pulled back and gazed at her.
“I have a cold,” she said, rising and moving quickly toward the door, cool and detached. Then she turned off the light and left my room.
I don’t think I understood her rejection or its impact on me at the time. I thought all mothers kept their affection under lock and key. In my world, it was normal to want love and not get it, no different from wanting a toy in a store and being told we couldn’t afford it. My mother didn’t indulge in affection because emotionally, she was bankrupt.
But as I grew older and watched other kids and their parents, I began realizing my world was terribly out of whack. Of course, knowing this, I did what any kid would do: I blamed myself, often wondering what it was about me she found so appalling.
Then, one day I got my answer.
We were driving home from church. Something had gotten under her skin—as was often the case—and for most of the day, her mood veered between silent sulking one moment and angry ranting the next.
“I hate it when you comb your hair like that,” she said with a snarl, alternating her glance between the road and me. “That part in the middle. God, Patrick!”
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, now studying my reflection in the side view mirror.
She gave a flip laugh that pushed my question into the category of preposterous. “You look like a horse’s ass, that’s what’s wrong with it.”
The comment stung, and tears filled my eyes. I know she saw them, but she didn’t appear the least bit concerned.
We drove on in silence for a while, the tears streaming down my face. And then I had to know. “Why don’t you love me?” I practically blurted the words out through my sobs.
“Love me,” I said, “How come you can’t?”
She fell silent for a moment, keeping her attention on the road, then let out an exasperated sigh.
“Because, Patrick … quite simply, you can be rather unlovable.”
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by Andrew E. Kaufman