“Be careful. The devil will steal your soul.”
Shifting the heavy cardboard box in her arms, Anna Carol blinked at the ominous voice. “Excuse me?”
No one was there.
A chill went up her spine as she turned around slowly in her new apartment, and glanced around the empty space.
It looked as cheery and bright as it had two weeks ago when the plump little real estate lady had led her through it, and she’d fallen in love with the place. It’d only taken her fifteen minutes to decide that this was where she wanted to start her life over. That this was the right place to begin fresh.
Richmond, Virginia. Childhood home of Edgar Allen Poe. The place where Patrick Henry had given his infamous “Give Me Liberty or Death” speech. This was where they’d passed the first statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson.
At one time, Virginia wasAmerica. This was where it’d all began. Decades before the Pilgrims had made landfall at Plymouth Rock, the colonists in Virginia had intrepidly carved out new lives for themselves here in the wilds off the banks of the James River.
So, it was ironic that when she’d dragged out her father’s old road map he’d once used to plan holiday fishing trips, closed her eyes, and randomly placed a thumbtack on a city to move to after her divorce, it had landed squarely on this very place. It still gave her a chill whenever she thought about it.
Having decided that she was going to pick up everything, and go wherever fate decreed, here she was.
If only she could say as much about her marriage.
Don’t think about it. Rick was a prick. That was her motto.
She couldn’t change her past. Only her attitude about it. And so, she’d sold everything she could, packed up her red Jeep, and hightailed it from Huntsville to Richmond.
To start over. Tabula rasa.
And it certainly didn’t get more blank or Spartan than this apartment with its plain, white walls that stared at her with threatening austerity.
She shivered in revulsion, wishing she could paint them the bright eggplant and green colors she’d used in her old Huntsville house that Rick had managed to steal out from under her.
“I’ll get some pictures.”
That would help cheer things up a bit more. Especially if one was a picture of her ex with an axe planted firmly between his eyes.
Smiling at the thought, Anna set the box down, then opened her door to return to her car for another load . . . and almost ran smack dab into a young man.
Handsome and ripped, he was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt as if he were about to go running.
“Oh, sorry,” he mumbled. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
She scowled as she caught a glimpse of his pupils through his dark sunglasses. For an instant, she could have sworn they flashed red. Must have been an optical illusion. “No problem. I’m just moving in.”
“Ah.” He glanced at her door. “I’m in the apartment above you. I was wondering if anyone would ever move into this one, again.”
Her frown deepened at the odd note in his voice. “What do you mean?”
He stopped scrolling through his playlist and lowered his phone. “You hadn’t heard?”
One brow shot north. “Um . . . nothing. Nothing at all.” As he started to leave she stopped him.
“Do you have a name?”
“Of course.” And with that, he dodged out the doors and down the stairs, toward the parking lot.
Okay then. He’d obviously flunked Southern Hospitality 101 and took an extra course in Rude.
“Ignore Luke. He has a personality disorder.”
She turned toward the stairs behind her to find an impressive short, voluptuous brunette standing there in a pair of ragged jeans and a black tee.
Was there some unwritten law that everyone in her building had to be extremely attractive?
Anna wondered how she’d made the cut, given the fact that she was twenty pounds overweight and approaching middle age at warp speed. Not to mention, she was hot and sweaty, and unlike her neighbors, her sweat didn’t make her glisten.
It made her gross and smelly.
“Which Alphabet Soup label does he fall under?” Anna asked the beauty as she came closer.
Anna scratched at the sweat on her cheek at one that was new to her. “Never heard of it.”
“Terminal Asshole Syndrome. Not sure if it was congenital or something he contracted after puberty. Either way, he has a fatal dose of it.”
She laughed at the woman. “I’m Anna Carol, by the way.”
“Two first names? Or did God not like you, to curse you with that particular moniker.”
“Ouch. Not that the Big Guy or mi querida madre was any kinder to me.” She tucked her hands in to her jeans pockets. “Marisol Verástegui.”
“Glad you think so. But then you’re not the one who has to try and get it straight at the DMV, or on any legal document. Talk about a nightmare!”
“I can see where that might make you crazy.”
“Oh yeah. But hey, it’s hysterical at Starbucks. I love to make the baristas cry.”
Anna laughed. While Luke might leave a lot to be desired in the friendly department, she really liked this neighbor. “It’s nice to meet you, Marisol. I take it you live upstairs, too?”
“I used to.” A dark sadness came into her eyes.
Marisol nodded, then turned around and walked through the wall.
Anna choked on a scream.
The entire backside of Marisol’s skull was missing.