Hush, My Darling

Series: Benoit & Dayne Mystery

Book Cover: The Killer in Me
The Killer in Me
Book Cover: Hush, My Darling
Hush, My Darling

Sometimes, the past starts to bleed into the future…

Dark memories haunt Eckardt County Deputy Lila Dayne. Two years ago, she survived a serial killer’s attempt to add her to his growing list of victims in Chicagoland, but the fight cost her more than just time lost to surgeries and rehab. Now she’s finally beginning to connect with the people in this small section of southeast Iowa, even if she can still sense him watching her.

Sheriff Elizabeth Benoit has her sights on bringing down Eckardt County’s corruption when two bodies surface, both bearing striking similarities to the serial killer victims discovered along I-80—and one delivers a personal message for her department. Lila spirals out of control under the pressure, pushing everyone out of her life.

As Elizabeth and her deputies try to bring Lila back into the fold, the killer closes in, marking his next victim. Lila must shake free of her fears and trust those who have supported her—or the killer will finish what he started.

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Publisher: Tule Mystery
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1

 

Prelude: Saturday Night

 

Growing up in the Jackson Park neighborhood of Chicago, Lila Dayne didn’t have many good memories. The ones she did have were the nights when it rained. She’d open her curtains and watch the lightning ripple across the sky over Lake Michigan. If it was summer, she’d pry open her ancient bedroom window and let in the smell of electrified air. Storms hadn’t bothered her in those days. They were tame compared to her home life.

Years later, her love of rainstorms would forever be tainted.

A crack of thunder had jolted Lila from her nightmare. She slipped from the bed, careful not to disturb the lump next to her, and padded out of the bedroom into the kitchen. She would not sleep as long as it stormed. Hugging herself, Lila tiptoed up to the sliding glass door and peered outside.

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Lightning lit up the backyard, creating eerie shadows from the trees and bushes. The momentary bright flash revealed the downpour. Thunder rumbled through the sky seconds later. Swallowing against the panic clawing at her throat, Lila turned from the sliding glass door. She headed toward the soft blue glow emitting from the living room.

Gerry, her pet beta fish, drifted aimlessly through his temperature-controlled waters. She bent over and peered into the tank. Seeming to sense her presence, he rotated and floated into her line of sight. They stared at each other for a moment, until Gerry got uppity and darted into his Easter Island statues.

“One day I’ll get you a woman and she’ll put you in your place,” Lila muttered at the taciturn fish.

Another crack of thunder left her shuddering. She grabbed a folded blanket from the sofa, shook out the large fleece throw, draped it around her shoulders, and flopped down in the middle of the couch. With her legs tucked up under her, she tried to burrow deep into her covering. At each flash of lightning and crack or rumble of thunder, she trembled.

But Lila refused to close her eyes. Doing so would have her return to that night. Her clenched jaw ached as she prevented her teeth from chattering. She dared to focus on the sound of the rain, but that, too, was a grim reminder.

He had used the storm to mask the sounds of his attack. Breaking into her home, throwing Lila into the fish tank, and thrusting that blade into her body and destroying what little bit of happiness she’d finally come to have. In the end, he hadn’t finished the job. He’d been spooked away, leaving Lila bleeding out next to her precious, dying koi.

She’d laid there among the shattered glass and puddles, unable to call out, listening to the rain pellet the front stoop through the open door.

She could still smell the fish tank water mingled with her blood. Feel the blood leaving her body. Sense her life fading as her fish gasped their last breath.

“Lila?”

The male voice slashed through the memories. She yelped, throwing the blanket aside. She bolted from the sofa and ran for the door.

“Lila, stop!”

Her frantic hands couldn’t make sense of the locks. She was trapped. He was going to kill her this time.

A hand on hers, and she froze momentarily, until the instinct to fight kicked in. She swung her elbow back, intending to connect with his abdomen, but instead he moved with her thrust and brought her around. The moment she was facing him, he released her and held his hands up in surrender as he stepped back.

“It’s me, Lila. Kyle.”

“Kyle?”

He lowered his hands. “Yes. Kyle.”

Clasping her hands over her mouth, she stifled a sob.

He closed the gap between them and dragged her into his arms. Lila pressed her face into his bare chest and gave in to her grief, curling into his body as if he were her lifeboat. Kyle embraced her tighter, caressing the back of her head, and said nothing.

How many nights in the last few months had he done this for her?

Her grief spent, she sagged against him.

“Is it gone?” he asked softly.

Her throat dried out from her ragged weeping, she merely nodded. Kyle untangled his arms from around her and dipped down. Lila was caught off guard as he picked her up, but instinct had her wrapping her arms around his muscled neck.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

He grunted, then carried her to the bedroom.

“Kyle, I don’t—”

He stifled her protest with a kiss. Lila, too exhausted to push her protest further, gave in. After all, he’d seen her at her worst and hadn’t run. He broke their kiss to lay her on the bed and crawled in with her.

He pulled her into his arms and kissed the back of her neck as he spooned her body. “Go to sleep. It’ll be over soon.”

“Why?”

He rubbed his nose against her neck. “Why what?”

“Why haven’t you broken it off with me? I’m a train wreck.”

“Why are you questioning it?”

She turned her head to try to look at him. “Because people like me scare people like you.”

“Guess I’m not that scared.” He nudged her head. “Now sleep. We’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

Lila lay there, sinking into the feel of his arms around her and his warmth against her backside. Her tense muscles relaxed, and, eventually, the emotional turmoil dragged her to the cusp of sleep.

As she was drifting off, she realized the storm was over and the patter of rain against her bedroom window was all that remained. Though the residue of her flashback lingered.

Deep in the back of her mind, a voice whispered, “Heed the nightmares.”

Lila disregarded it.

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