Marred – Excerpt

Marred by Sue Coletta“Riveting and haunting! Sue Coletta’s page-turning crime fiction is deliciously nuanced with delectable horror and dark humor. Unique and compelling characters make a sumptuous and satisfying meal. Save room for a decadent dessert of plot twists.” ~ Jordan Dane – Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author of the Ryker Townsend  FBI Profiler series

Chapter One

Monday, July 17, 2006 1:30 p.m.

I used to believe people were inherently good, if only at their core. I saw the brokenness of the homeless. I respected the overachiever in the football star hoping for Daddy’s approval even if he’d never get it. I saw the heart of sinners, the souls of lovers. Shattered dreams of an abandoned child. I saw good in evil, spirit in the unholy. I understood the complexities of love, marriage, life. Hell, I welcomed the challenge. I had hopes, dreams and affirmations. I did.

Then, that all changed. My views shattered, or my eyes finally opened.

That’s what Niko said, though devastation also filled his eyes. No longer did he think of me as his optimistic wife who loved life. I missed our blissful marriage. I missed our baby. I missed my blindfold. If only I could put it back on. Most of all, I missed…me.

Living on autopilot was the only way I could survive.

After my third shower of the day, I hobbled down the stairs, clutching a load of laundry. White-hot pain shot to my right knee and folded me in half. The basket of clothes tumbled to the floor—socks, T-shirts, jeans, shorts, and Niko’s sheriff’s uniform strewn about the living room.

I fell back against the stairs, twined my arms around the railing, and stared at the white lines on my forearms. I straightened, and a thick scar on my jugular tugged at the skin. After three never-ending years, hours and hours of counseling, one small reminder—scars from the knife—and I relived that night in Boston.

The phone startled me when it rang.

I didn’t want to answer, but for the Sheriff’s wife that wasn’t an option. “Hello?”

“Who’s this?” A man’s voice, distorted, disguised.

“Who’s this? You called me.”

“I think I have the wrong number.”

A dial tone sounded.

That was weird. I shrugged it off and reloaded the clothes in the basket. When I headed down the hall, the phone rang a second time. I’d had it with this guy. “Hello,” I answered, firm and harsh.

“Sheriff Quintano, please.” Same voice.

“Didn’t you just call here?”

“Sheriff Quintano, please.”

“He’s not home. He’s at work. Who is this?”

The line went dead.

“Jerk!” I slammed the handset in the cradle, and a chill sheathed my arms in goose bumps. I’d announced to a stranger that I was alone in the house.

The cordless phone’s musical trill resonated through the hall. Ruger and Colt jolted to their paws and took notice. I winced, not wanting to answer.

Third ring.

I rushed over. “I told you he’s not home. What do you want? Why are you calling back?”

“Do you want to live forever?”

A cold sweat broke across my back. “What’d you say?” This cannot be happening.

Not again. Unless…evil followed us here.

“Do you want to live forever?”

He found me. How? We were so careful. Niko and I hadn’t left a forwarding address. Our phone number wasn’t listed in the book. Neighbors asked where we were  moving, and we refused to disclose any details. If questioned, I said north and left it at that. We escaped clean and faded into obscurity. Yet, he called.

I dropped the handset in the cradle, disconnecting from the past.

Adrenaline masked my pain, and I sprinted from room to room, closed and secured all the windows and double-checked the locks on the front and back doors, bolted upstairs, and pressed my foot on the sliders’ security bar. Colt and Ruger watched me zip around the house, not knowing what was wrong. Ruger gave up and laid his head on crossed paws while Colt bounded over and stayed on my heels.

When I returned to the kitchen table, the phone rang again. My gaze locked on the handset, and I froze. Colt’s face ping-ponged between me and the phone. He put the pieces together in his mind, trotted over, and knocked the receiver off the cradle, gently clasped the handset in his lips and carried it to me. By using his training to aid me, he was trying to help, but at that moment, it was the last thing I wanted him to do.

I didn’t speak.

The man panted like Ruger after an exhausting game of fetch. I slapped a hand over my mouth and held back screams, refusing to give him the satisfaction of terrifying me. I also couldn’t hang up. His breath held me hostage. My fingers lost feeling around the handset, knuckles white from lack of blood flow. Unable to move, I was in his thrall.

“Do you want to live forever?”

I gaped left, right. He could be outside my home hiding in the bushes. If I didn’t respond, he might come inside. Perhaps he’d stalked me for days, weeks, months. Maybe he’d always been here. Out of reach, in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. Planning.

Why, oh, why was this happening again?

Razor-sharp pain shot to my right knee, ribs, arms, and stomach, his haunting question conjuring the injuries from the fateful night. I cringed. “What do you want?”

His demon-like cackle shot through my core like a poison-tipped arrow.

If only Niko had killed him that night…if his guts had splattered my living room walls, dousing me in his death…if he’d taken his last breath and his evil soul plummeted to hell…perhaps then I could breathe without his ghostly fingers around my throat.

How did he survive?

Niko had emerged outside the sliders and shot through one of the doors. The bullet struck the masked man in the shoulder. Glass shattered everywhere. The dogs barreled inside and over to me, whimpering, licking the blood off my face. They were so preoccupied with tending to my wounds; the intruder got a shot off before he fell.

The bullet struck Niko in the shoulder, and he flew backward and landed in the garden I’d made around the apple tree. It had taken me days to edge the garden in slanted bricks. When Niko fell, those bricks drove into his spine and incapacitated him long enough for the assailant to scramble to his feet and flee.

But not before he hovered over me and offered one last warning. “I’ll see you soon, Sage Quintano.”

That night he cackled too, as though he foresaw this day. After the attack, I hid for weeks, months. I lost track of how long I made myself a prisoner in my home. January slowed my heart rhythm to a manageable pace. Niko said that was when I healed. Not true. I’d never be the same. He’d stolen my child, my soul, my very being. The person I once was—outgoing, funny, adventurous—no longer existed. With his wrath and venomous, malevolent acts, he’d marred me for life.

For that, he should pay.

Deep in his throat, he chortled, sounding like the devil incarnate.

I bolted into the living room. In the corner by the sofa a grandfather clock ticked, slow and loud like a dying patient’s heartbeat. Disconnected from my tormentor, I thumbed the button for a dial tone. Niko’s cell rang twice before I hung up. Because I hadn’t shared the intimate details of the assault, if I explained how I knew this was the same man, there would be questions. Lots of questions. Questions I was unwilling to answer. If my husband heard the truth, he might leave.

I was trapped. Perfect prey. Nowhere to run; no place left to hide.

* * *

Two hours later, I was searching through old records. The moving van we’d rented in Boston, utility shut-off notices, a letter I wrote to the Boston Herald to stop the newspaper—every receipt from the weeks before the move to see if Niko or I had mistakenly given out our new address.

I found nothing.

A hospital bill caught my eye as I loaded the papers back in the box. In the corner of the bill was our phone number. This number. The woman in the billing department had demanded a way to contact us, and as I recovered at home, I overheard Niko rattle off the digits.

He glanced at me and mouthed, “It’s fine. Don’t worry.”

Only now, it wasn’t fine. This was how he’d found us. Found me.

Someone knocked at the front door, and Colt and Ruger howled. I whirled around, my heart sinking in my chest.

Another knock.

I approached the front entrance. One step. The other. I cracked open a peek-a-boo window at the top of the oak door.

I exhaled.

Our mailman, George, wore a smile that spread across his chubby face. “Need ya to sign fer this, Mrs. Quintano.” He passed me a clipboard and a gold pen.

I signed my name on the line and passed it back. “Nice pen, George. Was it a gift from your wife?”

Small towns. Even though we’d only lived here a short while, we knew the key players—employees of the post office, police station, library, and supermarket. Hard not to. If the librarian heard me cough, she’d tell every patron to be wary of my cold. She couldn’t help herself. All the more reason I offered a warm smile in public and nothing more.

“Yup. Betty found it at Carl’s.” Carl’s Cool Stuff, our local antique/junk/pawn shop. “Ol’ Carl sold it fer a buck. A buck! Ain’t that a hoot? Real gold too.” George shook his head. “Poor Carl. He’s gettin’ old.” George was getting old, too. He forgot to hand me the priority mail envelope. “Whoops. Here ya go, Mrs. Quintano.” He tipped his hat. “Ya have yerself a great day.”

“You too, George.”

I carried the envelope to the kitchen table, and a thrill zipped up my spine. I loved presents. The smudged return address made it impossible to tell who sent it, but I presumed Niko. When we were first married, he sent me gifts all the time. He’d say, “Just because I love you.” Or “Just because you make me happy.” He called them his just because gifts.

I tore it open.

Inside the sleeve was a necklace I recognized immediately. As ten-year-olds, my sister and I saved our allowances to buy two necklaces, each with a silver-and-turquoise angel pendant. When put together they formed Gemini. Being identical twins—Chloe two minutes older and she never let me forget it—these necklaces professed our unity. A sacred bond we thought would endure through anything, no matter how old we got or what transpired in our lives.

I tossed it back in the mail sleeve.

We’d had words a few weeks ago over something stupid. I guess this was her way of saying she wanted nothing more to do with me. As I set the envelope on the kitchen counter, I couldn’t imagine what had prompted Chloe to do this. But I intended to find out and dialed her number.

Her cell phone rang and rang. I called her landline and got her answering machine.

“I got your message, Chlo, but I wish you’d reconsider. Call me back so we can talk about this. I’m so sorry. I should’ve never judged you. Please, Chlo, I miss you. I want my sister back.” I sniffled. “Love you to the moon, ‘round the world, and back again.”

I waited to see if she answered. “Okay. I’ve said my piece. Call me.” I was about to hang up when a man answered.

“Chloe isn’t here.”

I bit back the anger. “Joe?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell Chloe her sister called…please.”

“Yup,” he said, but there was something in his tone that made me think otherwise.

“This Sage?”

“Since you’re sleeping with her, you ought to know.” I dialed back the attitude in case he told Chloe. “Yes. It’s Sage. Tell her I called…please.”

“You can bet your sweet ass I’ll do more than that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Bye, Sage.”

Before I could respond, he slammed down the phone, a crash that nearly broke my eardrum. As I re-cradled the handset, a familiar suspicion reared its ugly mug, a haunting question screaming through my senses—was Chloe safe?

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What reviewers are saying about Marred

“Lock your door. Turn up your lights. And prepare to thoroughly engross in one of the best reading rides you’ll ever have. Sue Coletta’s brilliantly told crime thriller, Marred, is the emotional, gut-tearing story of Sage Quintano’s physical and psychological survival—first from a vicious sexual assault, then from the taunting stalk by a deranged serial killer who’s abducted Sage’s twin sister, Chloe.

Marred suspends you into a terrifying world through an incredibly well-structured plot. The characters are superbly developed. The dialogue is fast, sharp, and thoroughly convincing. The twists, turns, and hidden clues keep you immersed in pure story right from the heartbreaking prologue to an end you’ll never see coming.

But what impressed me most—and this is coming from a person who spent a lifetime as a real-life homicide detective and forensic coroner—is the accuracy of detail in the crime scenes and how well woven the forensic evidence is.

If there were a six-star rating, I’d give it to Marred. And I’m predicting that Sue Coletta is going to be a household name in the crime thriller genre. She’s just that good a writer!” ~ Garry Rodgers, retired homicide detective, forensic coroner, and Amazon Top 10 bestselling crime writer. Amazon review.

***

“SUE COLETTA LOVES MYSTERIES that keep readers on the edge of their seats. She has written one. Sue Coletta loves mysteries where readers are dared to solve complex puzzles about grisly murders. She has written one. Don’t doubt it for a moment.Her debut novel is is a brilliant and compelling journey through the dark streets of a woman’s worst nightmare. Her husband is a homicide detective. But can he save her? Or will he be forced to investigate her death as well?

The mystery is haunting. The suspense is suffocating. The secrets have been buried deep, secrets left behind by a serial killer who threatens to come back and uncover them, an act that may potentially destroy them all.

Sue Coletta has burst on the scene with one of the most disturbing and unforgettable novels of the year. Her writing is strong and powerful. It prickles your skin, then sears it. It embeds fear deep in your mind. You are no longer the reader. You are in the story yourself. And you see every mysterious moment through the eyes of a best-selling author, Sage Quintano, whose past is stalking her, whose past threatens to expose her, whose past threatens to kill her, whose memories haven’t let her sleep well in years.

Sue writes: Adrenaline masked my pain, and I sprinted from room to room, closed and secured all the windows and double-checked the locks on the front and back doors, bolted upstairs, and pressed my foot on the sliders’ security bar. Colt and Ruger watched me zip around the house, not knowing what was wrong. Ruger gave up and laid his head on crossed paws while Colt bounded over and stayed on my heels.

When I returned to the kitchen table, the phone rang again. My gaze locked on the handset, and I froze. Colt’s face ping-ponged between me and the phone. He put the pieces together in his mind, trotted over, and knocked the receiver off the cradle, gently clasped the handset in his lips and carried it to me. By using his training to aid me, he was trying to help, but at that moment, it was the last thing I wanted him to do . . . I slapped a hand over my mouth and held back screams, refusing to give him the satisfaction of terrifying me. I also couldn’t hang up. His breath held me hostage. My fingers lost feeling around the handset, knuckles white from lack of blood flow. Unable to move, I was in his thrall.

“Do you want to live forever?”

A serial killer is on the lose. He’s been preying on innocent women, and he’s looking for Sage Quintano. He’s found her. She escaped him once and fled to the rural countryside of New Hampshire. What will be her fate this time?

Sue Coletta’s writing style is bold. It’s riveting. Her words carry the impact of pistol shots. Her dialogue would make Raymond Chandler proud. Her story touches your heart, then threatens to rip it out. Been sleeping good lately? You won’t after reading Marred.” ~ International Award Winning Author Caleb Pirtle, review on Amazon & Blog

***

“There are two reasons why you should be prepared for sleepless nights when you read Marred by Sue Coletta. Reason #1, it’s a page-turner and you’ll be staying up late to see what happens next. And #2, if you’re like me, you’ll be thinking about Coletta’s chilling story for a long, long time — especially if your phone rings unexpectedly.

Early in the book I became completely invested in the protagonist Sage Quintano and her detective husband Niko’s quest. Coletta’s carefully researched writing style and whip-smart dialogue brings the reader inside a world of unthinkably gruesome murders, crime scene forensics, and criminal psychology as Sage and Niko try to stop a brutal, twisted killer. The intrigue builds through many plot twists and turns, and Coletta’s vivid, heart-stopping descriptions are so jarringly real that there are several scenes I’ll never forget. I couldn’t put down Marred until I reached the last page, and it was such a satisfying read that I don’t even mind the hours of lost sleep. I can’t wait to read more by this author!” ~ International Award Winning Author Eliza Cross,  Amazon review.

***

“Crime writers need to read everything they can find about forensics, and it’s evident Sue Coletta has. Marred is the first published novel by Sue Coletta, a writer to watch. Sue Coletta includes lessons in forensics in every novel. She also includes keen insights on the failure of human communication gleaned from closely observing human interactions . . . Marred is a roller-coaster thrill ride that alternates points of view between Sages’ first person and Niko and Frankie’s third person. Human beings make mistakes, and sometimes they hurt the people they love most. Sage, Niko, Frankie, and Chloe feel hurt, so they hurt others in return. Marred leaves open the possibility of a sequel. I can’t wait to read what happens next.” ~ Award Winning Author Paul Dale Anderson, Goodreads and website

***

“MARRED is a wonderful dark, disturbing ride from beginning to end . . . Sue Coletta delivers a strong debut novel that will keep fans of psychological thrillers and crime fiction riveted to the page. Her scenes are vivid, the crime scene details clearly well-researched, and the plot one that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Her characters are people the reader can easily relate to, right down to the flaws and scars many of them carry. Perhaps that’s why the story feels so intense—a roller-coaster ride of suspense as the reader becomes caught up in the looming presence of evil. The scenes when Sage imagines her stalker lurking outside are particularly strong . . . You won’t be disappointed!” ~ Author Mae Clair, blog and Amazon.

***

“Nail-biting fun, from cover to cover. Coletta starts with a bang and doesn’t let go of the reader until the very last, chilling sentence. Mind you, it does get dark. In Coletta’s world, terrible things do happen to nice people. Still, if you enjoy a well-written, well-researched thriller, then this is the perfect book for you.” ~ Award Winning Author Nicholas Rossi, Goodreads

***

This book is a chilling, thrill a minute, read. Others have addressed the plot and theme, so I’m going to mention some of the background information. The supporting characters are well fleshed out, and I found myself looking forward to one deputy in particular. Coletta’s settings are wonderfully described without dedicating a ton of space. This book reads well, and delivers everything it promises and more. I will seek out this author in the future.” Author  C.S. Boyack, Goodreads and Amazon.

 

 

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