Home > Don't Say a Word (Strangers Series #3)

Don't Say a Word (Strangers Series #3)
Jennifer Jaynes

PROLOGUE

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD ZOE SHUDDERED as a fly buzzed past her ear.

Her eyes filling with tears, she pinched her nose closed. She’d never smelled decaying human flesh before. It was a heavy, sickening, awful smell. Kind of like the reek of the dead cat last spring that she and her sister had walked past every morning to get to their bus stop.

The stench overpowered the odors of paint, sawdust, and freshly installed carpeting—the new house smells that had, just a couple of days ago, promised her family a fresh start.

Before everything changed.

She stood in her bedroom doorway, frightened to step out into the hall, but she was so hungry her stomach ached. She knew there was a big stash of gummy worms in the first drawer of her mother’s bedside table, but there was no way she was going to step foot in her parents’ bedroom, because she was terrified of what she would find in there.

She’d have to pick through what was left in the kitchen.

Don’t think about it, just do it, she told herself.

She darted down the hallway at lightning speed, the wood floor cold beneath her bare feet, the sounds of each footfall echoing through the large, mostly empty house. She sprinted down the steps to the first floor.

The house was eerily quiet. Her mother wasn’t lazing on the couch. No soap operas blared on the new flat-screen television in the living room. No television judges barked admonishments. No drugs were strewn haphazardly across the coffee table.

In the kitchen, Zoe yanked the refrigerator door open and stared inside. Aside from a few condiments, some empty food wrappers, and crumbs, it was empty. Her stomach churned as she opened the door to the snack cabinet. She found two small boxes of raisins for her twin sister, Carrie, and stuffed them in the back pockets of her jeans. Then, dodging corrugated moving boxes and stepping over empty potato chip bags and an assortment of other food wrappers, she went to the pantry. Behind a giant carton of baking soda, she discovered one last can of raviolis.

Her mouth watering, she tore the pull-top open, dipped her fingers in the can, and plucked one out. She shoved the sweet pasta into her mouth, barely taking the time to chew before letting it slip down her throat.

The phone rang in the distance.

A bolt of terror shot through her, and she almost dropped the aluminum can.

The phone had been ringing a lot, but she had been too scared to answer it. Because if she did, it would finally make everything real. And she didn’t want it to be real. She had to believe that if she waited a little longer, everything would go back to normal. She’d wake up to find that all of this had just been a dream.

After six rings, the house became still again, and she felt her shoulders relax. She resumed stuffing the pasta into her mouth.

What the heck happened? she wondered for the millionth time, trying to remember.

Think! Think!

She knew only that one, or possibly both, of her parents were now gone. The events two nights earlier were like the images she’d seen in toy kaleidoscopes. They didn’t all fit together or make sense. Since it had all happened, her brain refused to work right. Every time she tried to remember, her thoughts fell away, like dominoes that were standing, but then suddenly weren’t.

Her father had been on a haul that night, and her mother’s greasy boyfriend, Gary, had been at the house. Zoe heard her mother talking to Gary about something. Something scary. It’d had something to do with the Texas Lotto money her father had won a few months back at a gas station across town. He’d won $1.2 million—and the jackpot had paid for the huge new house she was now standing in.

Suddenly, an image flashed through Zoe’s mind that made the hairs rise on the back of her neck. The ravioli can fell from her hand and landed with a big plop! on the floor. Wide-eyed, she watched it roll across the ceramic tile until it hit the pantry wall.

More memories, painfully vivid ones, rushed forward. Memories of things she might’ve seen.

Zoe took a step back. She shook her head. No, no, no, no, NO!

Clamping her hands against her ears, she squeezed, trying to crowd out the awful images. Attempting to remember had been a mistake. She no longer wanted to know.

Humming loudly to block out any new images, she went to the phone and dialed her father’s cell phone again. And again, he didn’t answer. Tears streamed from her eyes, burning her raw cheeks.

She sprinted back up the stairs. But when she reached the hallway that led to the bedrooms, she froze. Her parents’ door was partially open, and she could see the corner of her parents’ bed . . . and maybe, just maybe, a hint of her mother’s head, her blonde hair splayed out across the floor.

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