Saturday Excerpt: Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Suspense fans, this is the book you’ve been waiting for! Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward is the psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It comes out on March 5, but we’re here to give you a special preview! 

About Beautiful Bad:

A devoted wife, a loving husband and a chilling murder that no one saw coming.

Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me.

Maddie and Ian’s love story began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

Pre-order today! Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads

***

Meadowlark was a small town an hour and a half south of Kansas City. The emergency call center was located in a claustrophobic back room of the single-story, all-brick police station, which resembled a rest stop bathroom. It was ten at night, and Nick Cooper was alone when he received the call.

“Nine- one-one, what’s your—” he said nonchalantly into his headset microphone, while opening a packet of sugar for his coffee. He
wasn’t able to finish his question.

A child was shrieking in frantic bursts, and a woman was whispering, “Go back upstairs, baby, please.” Her voice was urgent. “Please! Go! Go now!” And then suddenly she shouted, “Oh my God!”

“What’s your emergency, ma’am?” he demanded, knocking over his coffee as he lunged for his computer. He told himself to remain calm, but the sound in his ear of a terrified child was incredibly upsetting. His fingers bordered on useless. An address showed up on his computer screen.

“Please, ma’am, can you—”

“Hurry!” she screamed. “Please help us! Hurry!” Eight seconds into the call from the residence at 2240 Lincoln Street, Nick lost contact. The female caller gasped and said “No!” in a desperate voice. Then there was the sound of what he assumed was the phone clattering to the floor. The line went dead. He tried to call back. No luck.

Nick sent out the emergency signal over the radio. “Possible robbery or domestic battery underway at 2240 Lincoln Street,” he said, speaking so fast his words ran together. “Female and child in the residence. No further information. Call ended. Un- able to reestablish connection. Over.”
Officer Diane Varga responded within seconds. “Dispatch, this is 808. I’m headed over now.”

Nick grabbed his phone and pressed the speed dial for Barry Shipps. Of Meadowlark’s two detectives, Barry was more likely to respond quickly even though he was off duty and probably not near his radio.

“This is Detective Shipps.”

“Detective,” Nick said. “This is Dispatch. Can you stand by for a possible call-out to 2240 Lincoln Street?”

“I can do better than that,” Shipps answered. “I’m filling up my car at Casey’s General just down the road.” A beat later Shipps was back in his car on his radio. “Dispatch, this is Shipps. I’m en route.”

Diane was in Nick’s ear again. “And I’m turning off Victory onto 223rd. Almost there.”

“Roger 808.” Nick almost said be careful. He stopped him- self. Every time he ran into Diane in town, he found himself whistling Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” He took a deep breath and folded his trembling hands in his lap.

A mostly white, working-class town, Meadowlark had its fair share of old farm families scattered about the outlying areas. There was one nice place, a beer garden and brewery called The Crooked Crow, which had just enough rural charm to draw people out from the city on sunny weekends. Other than that, there were just two sit-down restaurants. The Wagon Wheel and Gambinos. Last ditch, there was a Subway inside the Walmart. The words Sweet Water Creek were etched into a plaque on a decorative stone wall at the intersection. Officer Varga turned into the neighborhood. It was relatively new, ground broken just six years earlier, with only half the plots sold and a number of uninhabited homes. Moderately priced wooden constructs, they were nevertheless sizable and blandly pleasant, nestled between a couple of small, unimpressive country ponds and some
magnificent old elms.

Diane rounded the corner and noticed a red Radio Flyer tricycle overturned on the sidewalk. The silver handlebars gleamed in the cheerful glow from the porch lantern two doors down from her destination.

The house at 2240 Lincoln was one of the larger in the neighborhood, sprawling across a gradually sloping lawn with tasteful landscaping and a terra-cotta stone fountain jutting up from behind a cluster of poorly tended rosebushes. Diane got the feeling that here in Sweet Water Creek, everything was all right. Better than her life, for sure. Her intuition, as she stepped from her car and faced the house, did not say to her, “crime scene.”

“Dispatch, I’m on location,” she said into the radio mic attached to her uniform chest pocket. Diane walked at a fast clip up the sidewalk toward the front door, framed by two slender evergreen trees on either side. She knocked loudly three times.

“Police!” she called out, but there was no answer. From somewhere close by came the clipped repetition of an upset dog yipping nonstop. She felt her pulse quicken. This can’t be too bad, she thought. It’s Meadowlark. And yet, something was telling her to hurry. She punched her finger on the doorbell, ringing it in frantic succession. The hollow bong of the bell echoed inside. No footsteps on the stairs. Nothing.

The door itself was wooden, framed on either side by decorative windows. Diane peeked inside, trying to focus through the textured glass. The first thing she saw was a pair of tall military-style combat boots sitting just inside the entry. They seemed somehow at odds with the modern home and its vast, shiny floor of polished blond wood. It appeared to be one great room; open plan, like a city loft. Right by the front door was a curved staircase winding up to the second floor. An electronic device, possibly a home phone, lay in smashed plastic pieces on the floor next to the bottom step. Diane moved slightly to get a better angle. Now she could see more of the interior.

She caught her breath.

The beautiful blond wood was stained. There was a red mess in the middle of the room. Her heart commenced hammering in her chest. It was not going to be nothing, as she had hoped. And Nick had mentioned a child.

“Dispatch, I’m looking through a window at what appears to be a lot of fresh blood,” she said into her mic, more loudly than intended. “Possible fatality here. I need backup and EMS.” With a barely discernible edge of panic, she fumbled to unholster her semiautomatic Glock pistol and raised it to a tentative ready position.

She rang the bell once more. “Police!” she yelled again, this time in a wilder, louder voice. She tried the door and gave it a hard shove with her shoulder. It was locked and solid.

Diane raced toward the shadowy south side of the home, look- ing for another entrance. As she ran, she heard Nick sending out another emergency tone over the radio requesting all units for backup. She slipped in a patch of mud rounding the corner and caught herself with her free hand. She could now tell that the dog barking frantically was in the backyard.

At the end of a row of bushes was a wrought-iron fence with a gate. Broken and tied shut with a bungee cord. Diane became frantic in her attempt to wrestle the rusty thing open.

“Come on!” she whispered, frustration mounting. Finally it gave, the hinges making a horrible scraping noise like claws dragging down a chalkboard. As she began crossing the back- yard, two other officers responded in succession that they were on their way. Diane said, “Shipps? ETA?”

His voice came over her mic. “Five minutes.”

“Roger.”

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