Excerpt: Sinful Deeds
Book 1: Sinful CORE
“Little pig, little Pig, let me come in.”
“No, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.”
“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.”
—The Three Little Pigs, Joseph Jacobs
Twenty years ago…
North Royalhurst, Ohio
September 20th, 11:20 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time
SCREAMS PIERCED THE night.
Helena Abel shoved the covers aside and sat upright. Heart pounding, she looked to the twin bed across the room.
Her ten-year-old sister, Emily, rubbed her eyes and started to rise. “Lena?”
Lena turned her attention to their closed door, then stared at the NSYNC poster taped onto it in the shadows of the nightlight. “Yeah?”
“What was that?”
“I dunno. Maybe a movie Mom and Dad are watching,” she said to comfort herself. Her parents never watched scary movies. Ever. Mom hated being scared, and Dad saw no point in them. “Or maybe Amanda.” Their older sister loved horror movies, but was supposed to work until eleven. Lena glanced at the clock. Eleven-twenty. She’d bet anything Amanda had come home from work, made herself some popcorn, and was watching something rated R on HBO.
“Didn’t sound like something from the TV.” Emily crawled off her bed, then climbed onto Lena’s and snuggled against her. “It sounded real,” she whispered.
The scream had woken her, so Lena couldn’t be sure of anything. “Why would Mom or Amanda yell like that?” She curled into Emily’s warm body. There might be two years between them, but she never minded snuggling with her little sister. Mom said she and Em had a good relationship because their birthdays fell in the same month, and they were both Cancers—whatever that meant. But she simply loved being around Emily. They both liked the same music, video games and movies, and had fun together.
Emily flipped onto her side until their noses touched, then turned on a flashlight. “Should we check?”
Lena pushed the flashlight down so it wasn’t in her face. “Dad said not to play with that. You’re gonna get in trouble.”
“I’ll put it back in the morning.” Emily met her gaze. “So, should we check?”
“I don’t want to deal with Amanda. She’s been a jerk lately.” Since she’d turned sixteen, gotten her driver’s license and a boyfriend, and taken a job at Gina’s Pizza, Amanda had been acting as if she was too cool for them.
Emily’s eyes widened. “She pulled my hair this morning. I don’t want her doing it again.”
“Why’d she do that?”
“’Cause I opened her purse.”
“Well, you shouldn’t go into her things. We’re not supposed to go into Mom’s purse, either.”
“I know, but I wanted to try that new lipstick she just bought and—”
Another scream came from downstairs, followed by a muffled shout. Lena’s heart pounded even harder as she hugged Emily closer.
The sounds weren’t from the TV. They were real. They were happening. Right now. In their house.
“I’m scared,” Emily said, her voice hushed.
When one of her warm tears hit Lena’s arm, Lena leaned a few inches back. She pushed Emily’s brown hair from her face so she could see her big brown eyes, then she cupped her sister’s cheek. “Me, too. I’m gonna see what’s happening. If it’s something bad, I’ll use the phone in Mom and Dad’s room and call 911.”
“We could go out of our window.”
Lena shook her head, her hair creating strange shadows against the flashlight. “We’re on the second floor.”
“We could tie sheets and make a rope.”
“That only works in movies,” Lena said, rising. “I’ll go to the steps and look around the corner. If something is wrong, I’ll call the police. Okay?”
Emily pushed off the blankets. “I’ll go with you.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “No. You stay here. If I yell, then you go to Mom and Dad’s room and call 911. Got it?”
“I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to be alone.” Her sister’s chin trembled. “What if Uncle Steve and Dad are fighting again? I hated that night.”
A few months ago, their Uncle Steve had come over, drunk a bunch of beers and started a fight with their dad. The brothers had ended up in a shouting match that had woken the entire house. Worried and frightened, Lena and her sister had held each other as they’d made their way out of their room, only to be intercepted by their mom, who had tucked them back into bed and reassured them that everything would be fine, that Uncle Steve and Dad were dealing with adult stuff. Then she’d closed the door. If it hadn’t been for Emily, Lena wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night. Her parents rarely raised their voices and the shouting, the violence in her uncle’s tone, had scared her.
But she doubted Uncle Steve was here now—not at this time of night. Plus, the screams they’d heard were from a woman. A very terrified woman.
Goose bumps coated her skin. She glanced away from her sister, stared at the closed door and the NSYNC poster. The guys from the group usually made her happy, had her picturing herself front row at one of their concerts, where Justin Timberlake would call her up on stage, dance with her and maybe even kiss her cheek. Tonight, even Justin—her favorite member—couldn’t help shake the unease upsetting her stomach.
“I hated that night, too,” she whispered. She tugged her nightgown over her legs and climbed off the bed. “But I don’t think Uncle Steve is here.”
“I heard a man shout,” Emily insisted, also crawling out of bed.
“I told you to stay here.”
Emily blinded her with the flashlight. “You’re not the boss of me.”
Lena snatched the flashlight from her sister, then, still seeing spots, blinked several times. “You sound like a baby. Don’t be dumb. If something is wrong, we shouldn’t be together. That way one of us can call 911. Got it?” When a tear trickled down Emily’s freckled cheek, Lena regretted being mean to her. “Just stay here.”
“I’m not a baby.” Emily sniffed and wiped her eyes. “You’ll come back, right?”
Lena’s throat clogged as she tried to fight her own tears and be strong. “I’ll always come back for you.” She gave her sister a hug. After handing the flashlight back to Emily, she went to the door.
Heart beating hard, her breath coming in shallow gasps, she turned the knob. She looked back to her sister, then opened the door a crack.
The hallway of their home was silent. The doors to the rooms were open, lights off, with the exception of the bathroom she and Emily shared with Amanda. She swallowed, then stepped into the hallway. Muted grunts and groans came from the family room.
She made her way quietly to her parents’ bedroom. The light from the bathroom touched on her mom and dad’s empty bed. Instinct told her to use the bedside phone to call the police. But what if the sounds were coming from the TV? Her parents would be mad if the police showed up at their house. The neighbors would come out to see what was happening…
Lena crept into Amanda’s room. Empty. She dragged in a deep breath. She was letting her wild imagination take over. Her mom and dad were downstairs watching a movie. Amanda probably had come home from work and joined them. As she edged toward the stairs, she told herself the explanation made total sense, envisioned, her mom, dad and Amanda sitting on the couch or chair, eyes glued to the TV.
When she reached the top of the stairs, the house suddenly went silent. She rubbed the hairs standing along her arms and fought the urge to run to the safety of her and Emily’s room. Longing to be back in bed with her sister, she glanced over her shoulder toward the doorway. But she’d gone this far, and chances were nothing was wrong.
Lena faced forward again. And froze.
A man, a total stranger she didn’t recognize, stood at the bottom of the steps, his focus on the family room around the corner. Her flesh crawling, her stomach cramping with terror, she held her breath and slowly shifted her feet backward, praying, hoping that he wouldn’t look up, that the soft carpet wouldn’t give her away. A dozen steps, and she could reach her parents or Amanda’s room, then call for help from one of their phones. Gaze locked on the man, she ignored the tears filling her eyes and slipping down her cheeks, and took another backward step.
“Don’t use her up too much. I want a turn after I check the upstairs,” the man said.
“There’s two of ‘em here,” another man replied, as if something was funny.
“Yeah, but I don’t want the mom.” The man at the bottom of the steps grabbed his crotch. “I want the daughter.”
Lena covered her mouth to stop herself from screaming and rushed to her parents’ room. She quickly picked up the phone and dialed.
“911,” the operator began, “what’s your emergency?”
“There’re men in our house who don’t belong here,” Lena whispered. “I…I think they’re hurting my mom and sister.”
She heard typing in the background before the operator asked, “What’s happening, honey?”
“I’m not sure,” she said, sobbing. “They’re here. Please come help us.”
“We got another one!” She instantly recognized the voice of the man from the steps. “Ask Daddy if there’re any more.”
Lena gripped the cordless phone tight and once again held her breath. Her entire body trembling, she looked to her parents’ closet door, then ran to it.
“Honey, are you still there?” the operator asked.
“He has my other sister,” she replied once she was inside the closet. “I…I should’ve never left her alone. I should’ve—”
“Where are you?”
“In my mom and dad’s closet.”
“Honey, you stay right where you are. The police are on the way. Do you understand? Don’t move.”
“But Emily—” she said, sniffing and wiping her cheeks.
“Stay with me, honey. You be brave and strong, and you stay on the phone with me, okay?”
Light glowed from beneath the crack of the closet door. She heard drawers being yanked from the dressers, recognized the tinny melody playing from the musical jewelry box she’d given her mom this past Mother’s Day before it went silent. Worried what the man would do to her if he discovered she’d called the police, yet terrified to let go of her only connection to the outside world, Lena adjusted her sweaty palm around the receiver. “He’s here,” she whispered.
“Can you run?” the operator asked, her voice rising with alarm and panic.
“No,” Lena said, then without turning off the phone, she shoved it under her dad’s shoes. Certain no one could see the green glow of the phone should they open the door, she slipped beneath her mom’s long dresses, then hugged her knees.
The sound of overturned drawers and items being knocked from dressers grew closer. And closer. Closer still…
A shadow muted the light from beneath the closet door. Fear choked her, pressed heavy on her throat, chest and bladder. Silently crying, praying the police would be here any second, she fought to be strong. But all she wanted to do was crawl onto her dad’s lap and hug him. She didn’t care that she was in the seventh grade and yet still wanted to be cradled like a baby. She wanted her mom and dad and—
The closet door ripped open. Lena didn’t move. Didn’t breathe or make a sound.
The man from the stairs leaned inside, his dark shoulder-length hair falling forward. He tossed hangers aside, threw shoeboxes and purses from the shelves, then knelt down and shoved through the shoes on the floor. He stopped and picked up the cordless phone she’d left there.
Green light from the phone’s small, rectangular screen touched the side of his face as he raised it to his ear. Seconds passed, then he pulled the phone away and pressed a button.
The green light disappeared, along with her only link to the police. But they were coming. The lady said they were. They would be here, and they would stop these people from hurting her family.
The man stepped out of the closet. “There’s nothing up here,” he shouted, kicking more drawers aside and banging against the door as he left the room.
Lena finally let out the breath she’d been holding, and looked to where the phone had been dropped. Torn between staying right where she was and calling the police again, she waited a few heartbeats. When she heard her mom scream, she reached for the receiver.
Lena cried out as the man grabbed her by the wrist, then her hair, and dragged her from the closet. She kicked and fought him. Satisfaction pushed past the terror when her foot connected with his crotch and he let out a painful grunt.
“Little bitch.” He punched her in the head, produced stars and made her jaw rattle. “Are there any more of you?”
Without waiting for an answer, he hauled her out of the room, then down the stairs. “We gotta go,” he yelled.
When they reached the family room, Lena’s heart sank, and her mind and body went numb.
An untouched drink—her dad’s nighttime whiskey—sat on the coffee table, along with a glass of her mom’s white wine. Today’s newspaper and her mom’s numerous Better Homes and Gardens magazines were scattered on the carpet. Throw pillows and cushions from the love seat had also been tossed to the floor. The flames from the candles on the coffee table glowed against the silver tape wrapped around her dad’s wrists, ankles and mouth. Blood coated his face and his gray T-shirt and was matted in his hair, staining the cream carpet where he lay on his side. When he blinked and looked at her, she instinctively tried to go to him.
The man jerked her against his chest and pressed a gun against her head. Her dad’s swollen eyes widened slightly before he shifted his gaze to the couch.
Taking in quick, shallow breaths, Lena’s eyes followed. Her stomach soured, her legs weakened and she sagged against her captor. Her mom, her pretty, kind, smart and strong mom, was also bound with silver tape. Red and purple welts rose along her cheeks, had swollen one of her eyes shut, while blood oozed from her nose and onto the tape covering her mouth. When Lena settled her gaze on the lower half of her mom’s body, where her pajama bottoms and underwear had been torn, and more bruises and welts coated her thighs, her fear escalated. Sickened and fully aware of what they’d done, she searched the room for her sisters.
Another man rushed into the family room from the den/play room off the short hallway to the right. Young, good looking, tall and broad shouldered, he zipped up his jeans, then pulled a gun from his pocket. He let out a deep breath, knocked his dark blond hair from his forehead, then smiled at the man holding Lena. “Another one?” He glanced to her dad and chuckled. “How many girls do you have in the house?”
“That’s it.” A third man, who had red hair and was shorter and stockier than the other two, stepped into the room from the kitchen which opened up to the family room from the left. He lit a cigarette, then took a long drag. “Didn’t you dumbasses see the family picture hanging in the hallway?”
“I was a little busy with the pizza girl.” The blond man grinned. “Find anything good?”
“Nothing we can pawn easily.”
The blond pulled what looked like a credit card from his back pocket. “We have Daddy’s ATM card and PIN. Between the big house and fancy cars, I guarantee there’s some serious cash in his bank account.” He looked again to the man holding Lena, specifically at the gun against her head. “Find anything upstairs besides this other kid?”
“Didn’t you hear me? We’ve got to go.” The man gripped her arm so tight, she thought for sure the bone would snap. “This little bitch called the cops.”
“You’re positive?” the blond asked.
“I found a cordless phone in the closet where she was hiding.”
“Fuck,” the blond man shouted, his face contorting with rage. He hurried to her dad, kicked him in the stomach several times, then kicked the cushions and pillows on the carpet. Still swearing and now panting hard, he lifted the coffee table and knocked it on its side. The glasses and their contents spilled onto the carpet, and the candles fell onto the newspaper and magazines, instantly producing a small flame.
The third man rushed over and grabbed him by the arm. “Be pissed off later,” he said, pulling the blond toward the kitchen entrance and looking over his shoulder at her. “Screw tying her up. We need to get the hell out of here.”
Smoke filled the room as flames quickly licked their way over the papers and carpet. The gun fell away from Lena’s head, just as her captor leaned his mouth close to her ear. “Better hope the police get to you before the fire does,” he whispered, then he smacked her head with the gun.
Pain shot through Lena’s skull as she hit the soft carpet. The service door off the mudroom and leading to the garage slammed shut, signaling the men had left. Dizzy, her vision doubling, she struggled to stay awake and crawled toward her dad, where the flames were moving dangerously close to him. When she reached him, she coughed because of the fumes and quickly pulled the tape from his mouth.
“Get Emily,” he wheezed.
“Where is she?” she asked, trying desperately to unwind the ties from around his ankles.
“Fort. Go! Get Amanda, too.” He writhed his body, jerking his ankles out of her hands. “Go!”
Lena glanced at her mom who was struggling to stand, and ran to the den where Mom had set up a fort for them using a card table and old sheets. Coughing and tasting smoke, her hatred for the men escalated when she saw Amanda on the floor, naked from the waist down. Amanda’s face was swollen and bloodied, her pizza uniform ripped, revealing her bra, and the bruises along her thighs and stomach. “Amanda,” she said, choking on smoke and a sob, and shaking her sister’s shoulders. “Wake up!”
When Amanda didn’t move, Lena went to the fort. Emily was curled inside in a ball, her eyes closed and her wrists and ankles bound, the tape pinching her skin. Lena smoothed her hand over the girl’s tear-soaked face where wisps of brown hair clung to her freckled cheek and a large bruise had already formed. “Em,” she shouted, pulling her out. “We have to go!” She shook Emily. When her eyelids fluttered, hope spurred on Lena. They could get out of this alive. They could survive and make sure those men went to prison for what they’d done to them.
“That’s it,” Lena encouraged her sister. Emily was small enough that Lena could take her outside. Once Emily was safe, she’d go back for Amanda, who had her by twenty pounds and four inches. With a plan in mind, energy surged through Lena, made her strong and confident, especially when she heard the sirens. She half-carried, half-dragged Emily across the room. With her focus on escape, she ignored the thickening black vapor and the heat coming from the hallway.
Men shouted. Firemen? Policemen?
She forced Emily to move faster, then came to an abrupt halt when they reached the family room. A wall of fire had taken over the room, licking at the furniture, the carpet and drapes, and had climbed up the wall like a mass of molten orange and black spiders. Holding Emily to her chest to keep her face from the smoke, Lena covered her mouth and searched for her parents, for the men she’d heard. A white beam of light momentarily pierced through the flames and gray clouds, but the light, the man holding it…there was no way to reach him. Not without running through the fire.
Panicking, her eyes and lungs burning, she pulled her hand from her mouth and screamed, hoping the man would hear her. Emily gripped the front of her nightgown. Lena looked down. Her sister’s tears had carved a path down her sooty face and into the tape along her mouth. Knowing they couldn’t stay where they were for much longer, Lena quickly backtracked to the den, drew them inside, then kicked the door shut. After sitting Emily on the floor next to Amanda, she carefully pulled the tape from her sister’s mouth.
“Help is here.” She pushed Emily’s hair from her face. “We’ll be out of this soon,” she said, then ripped the sheet from the fort and covered Amanda’s body.
“They hurt her.” Fresh tears spilled from Emily’s eyes as she looked at their older sister. “Hurt her bad. I…I saw before the man put me in the fort. He was—”
“Shh.” Lena hugged Emily close and sat next to her. “I know what they did.”
“They hurt Mom and Dad, too.”
Lena’s burning throat tightened, but she didn’t want to think about her parents right now. She might be a kid, but she wasn’t a stupid one. There was no way they could’ve made it out of the house before the fire took over the family room.
“We’re going to die,” Emily whispered. “All of us.”
Despite the heat, goose bumps rose along Lena’s skin. “I’ll protect you,” she said, but as the smoke filled the room and the flames shot under the door, she tried to figure out how she could save them. She glanced around the room, then quickly stood and went to the window. How stupid could she have been? Why hadn’t she thought about the window before?
A thunderous crash roared through the house, shaking the pictures off the walls. Outside a chunk of the house fell in a heap of orange flames. The window frame splintered and cracked. She didn’t know what that meant, but knew it couldn’t be good, especially with how much heat was now coming from outside the house.
Lena jumped back, covered Emily and as much of Amanda as she could with her body, and pulled the fort sheet over all of them. Glass shattered and rained down.
Emily wept and dug her nails into Lena’s arms. “It’s coming for us,” her sister yelled over the roar of the fire, then began coughing, a deep whooping, goose-like sound.
Lena peeked from beneath the sheet. Her heart raced so fast, she worried it would explode. The fire had burned through every crack in the door and was now climbing along the walls and ceiling. “Keep your mouth and nose covered!”
“I’m so scared,” Emily cried.
“Me, too.” Lena met her sister’s shadowed gaze. I can’t live without you hung on the tip of her tongue. But she couldn’t say those words, she couldn’t lose hope. They had to survive. “We’re going to make it.” She looked to Amanda and gave her sister a hard shake. “Right, Mandy?”
Amanda’s head rolled to the side, and Lena noticed her breath didn’t billow the sheet covering them. “No, no, no! Mandy, wake up!”
Another crash let loose from somewhere else in the house, rocking the walls. She let go of Amanda, and completely covered Emily’s body with her own again. “We have to be strong, Em. You hear me?”
Emily nodded against her chest.
“We have places to go, remember? When we’re all grown up we’re supposed to travel the world and meet boys in a bunch of different countries, right? We’re going to go to college, become doctors, marry super handsome guys and live next door to each other so our kids will grow up together. Remember?” When Emily didn’t answer, Lena leaned back slightly. Emily’s eyes were closed and her shallow breathing barely touched her cheek. “Stay awake!” Panicking, terrified of losing Emily, of never seeing her smile, never hearing her laughter, of never holding her hand, she shook Emily’s shoulder. “Stay alive. Please, Em. I can’t live without you.”
“Found them!” a man shouted.
Lena jerked her head up, pulling the sheet from the top of her head and looked toward the window, where a fireman crouched and held up a hand. When he shifted his helmeted head to the ceiling above her, she did, too.
Then she screamed as it crashed down on her.