The fourth book in the Rushed series is here December 11!
When a terrifying dream leaves Eric with a familiar, urgent
compulsion to get up and leave his home, he fears that he’s in for a frightful
case of déjà vu. But what he finds waiting for him at the end of his long drive
north is unlike anything he's yet seen. The Hedge Lake Triangle is a hotspot of
paranormal activity claiming everything from mysterious disappearances and
hauntings to UFOs and monster sightings. He’ll need all his wits and then some,
because something unthinkable lurks beneath the surface of the lake and he only
has until the rain falls to navigate the endless horrors and face the evil that
awaits him at the bottom of the triangle.
Read on to preview the entire first chapter!
Eric’s eyes flashed open. He was lying in bed, clutching the sheets to
his bare chest and staring up at the familiar, white ceiling of his bedroom. The morning sunlight poured through the
window blinds and painted brilliant stripes across the wall. He could hear birds singing outside, but it
was otherwise quiet. Peaceful. Deceptively calm. As if all were well with the world.
He was trembling. His heart was racing. He struggled to catch his breath. A strange terror was welling up within him,
slowly overwhelming him.
let it take me!
His cell phone rang. He snatched it off the nightstand beside him
and held it to his ear.
“You can’t ignore it,”
He ran a hand through his
tousled hair and groaned. “I know.” He pushed aside the covers and sat up. “Damn it…”
He’d prayed that it was
only a dream when it woke him the previous morning. But the fact was that he didn’t have very
many dreams that he could actually remember in any detail. Not anymore.
What little he could recall was usually nonsense. Most mornings, he woke up with no memory of
his dreams, only a curious feeling that he’d been dreaming of something very profound.
But this dream had not
only been incredibly vivid, it had come to him two nights in a row. And it left him feeling oddly restless…as
though he had somewhere he needed to be…
“It’s a lot like the
first dream you had,” Isabelle said.
“The one that brought you to me.”
It was. It wasn’t as strong, but he felt that same,
irrational compulsion to get dressed and go somewhere. The difference was that he hadn’t been able
to remember that dream. Not until he set
out to silence it. This one, however, he
remembered quite clearly.
It was deep winter under
a gloomy, gray sky. A thick blanket of
snow had settled over the floor of a naked forest. The wind was blowing stiff and cold. He could remember precisely how it felt, biting
his skin right through his clothes.
Except that they weren’t
his clothes. It wasn’t even his
skin. It wasn’t he who was out in this
bleak wilderness. It was someone else. A woman, he thought, though he couldn’t be
entirely sure. It was bizarre. He seemed to be inside her skin, feeling the
wind that stung her face, struggling through the snow, gasping for every icy
breath. He could feel her pounding heart
as if it were inside his own chest. He
saw the frozen wilderness with her eyes, felt the gripping terror that was
rapidly swallowing her. And yet he also
felt as if he were miles away, like he was looking up from the bottom of a
deep, dark well.
Something was in that
forest. Something terrifying. He could hear it. She could
hear it. Behind him. Behind her.
Eric rubbed at his
eyes. It was all so confusing. It was only a dream, but it was so
vivid. So real. He was still tangled
up in those emotions.
He remembered a steep
slope. He—no, she—stumbled and fell, sliding through the snow, scraping the numb
flesh on the palms of her bare hands. He
looked down at his own hands now. It
felt so real, even now, that he was surprised to find them unblemished.
Great, rocky bluffs rose
up on either side as the woman fled deeper into the thickly wooded gully. Then she went too far. The ground vanished beneath her. She dropped twenty feet and landed hard on
So much pain…
“You know it won’t stop,”
Isabelle reminded him. “You’ll live
through that every night until you go.
It’ll drive you mad.”
He wanted to argue that
they knew no such thing, but he would only be stalling. Deep down, he understood. It was too much like the other dream. He knew it the first time it woke him, if he
were to be honest. It was why he’d gone
to sleep with his phone on the nightstand, with Isabelle only an arm’s length
He was being summoned
“You already know where
you have to go.”
He sighed and stood
up. “North,” he said. He scratched his neck and shook his head,
frustrated. “I go north.”
“I’ll be with you the
whole way,” promised Isabelle. “Like
“I know. Thank you.”
He hung up the phone and
turned off the alarm that never had a chance to wake him. Usually, he wouldn’t even hit the snooze for
the first time for another twenty minutes yet.
He dressed himself as his
mind circled around the awful, lingering dream.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the end, those last few moments before
he was mercifully torn from the nightmare and returned to consciousness. Through tears of terror and agony he saw a
wide, frozen lake stretching out from the narrow cove where the woman lay
broken upon the cracked ice. Above her,
high bluffs and crowding trees. And
something else, too, something big moving through the trees. A burning glow high up in the branches. An awful shriek.
And more pain.
She cried out for help,
and although he was sure she must have been crying out to God on that bloody
ice, a final, desperate prayer, he could’ve sworn that she was speaking to him.
let it take me!
He shuddered hard at
those words, the final thing he’d heard before the dream shattered and ejected
him back into his peaceful bedroom again.
It wasn’t just a
dream. It was real. That woman was real. The thing that was chasing her was real. Her suffering
was real. But those events didn’t happen
recently. That lake was deeply
frozen. It was the middle of
winter. It was now late April.
That left one important
question: Had the awful scene taken
place in a winter past…or in a winter yet to be?
He made his way
downstairs, where he found Karen in the kitchen, already busying herself with
her baking. She had four hundred cupcakes
to bake for a wedding the next day. For
most people, waiting until the morning before would be pushing it, but Karen
was not most people. She was
ridiculously talented in the kitchen and made a considerable amount of spending
money as a freelance cake decorator and caterer. She was perfectly content to simply rise a
little earlier than usual.
“You’re up early,” she
observed, barely sparing him a glance as she poured sugar into her mixer.
Holly sat at the table,
separating paper baking cups and slipping them into muffin pans. She turned and looked up at him, brushing her
long, red hair from her pretty face and offering him her usual, sweet
smile. “Good morning!” As always, she was exceedingly cheerful, as if
she’d never been dealt a single reason to be anything but optimistic and full
“Good morning,” he said
to both of them as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Did you have the dream
again?” asked Karen. It wasn’t a
secret. He hadn’t kept it from her. He never
kept things from her. Not for long. He might occasionally downplay just how much
peril he’d found himself in, like that time he was shot at by a fat, psychotic
cowboy. (It was better that she not know
just how narrowly he’d escaped that encounter.)
But he always told her the rest of it, regardless of how frightening or
disturbing (or unflattering or embarrassing) his exploits might be.
They were always honest with each other.
“So you’ll be leaving again?”
“Looks like it.”
To anyone who didn’t know
her, she would have looked unnaturally calm, as if the idea of him venturing off
on another of his weird adventures wasn’t the least bit terrifying to her. But Eric knew her far better than
anyone. She wasn’t comfortable
expressing her feelings. She bottled
them up inside and put on false faces. It
was an old coping mechanism that had served her through some rough adolescent
years, and an apparently unbreakable habit even after all this time. Right now, she was feigning disinterest and a
little bit of annoyance. He was about to
go off on another stupid road trip to get himself hurt again. A silly boy and his silly adventures. But he knew that deep inside, in that fragile
part of her that she kept locked up tight, she was very much afraid.
“Do you know where you’re
going?” she asked as she started up her mixer.
“North,” he replied.
“That’s not very
Eric took a sip of his
coffee and then cocked his head thoughtfully.
“It’s pretty specific. When you get down to it. I mean, it’s precisely as specific as a
far north?” she pressed. “Like, up
north? In Northern Wisconsin? Upper Peninsula? Or are we talking Canada north? Or Santa’s
“Can’t say. I guess I’ll know it when I get there.”
“The lake,” agreed Holly
as she continued prepping the muffin pans.
“Where the people in the mist wander.
With the beast with many names.
And where the funny space men play with their toys.”
Eric and Karen both
looked at her, but she kept her eyes on the task before her, as if she hadn’t
said anything strange at all.
“Right…” said Karen. “There you go. Just look for all that stuff.”
Eric nodded. “Yeah.
That should narrow it down for me.”
Holly smiled her sweet
“What does Isabelle say?”
“That I should hurry.”
Holly. “Something’s going to happen
there. I can’t see what it is, but it’s
going to be bad.”
Eric had been lifting his
cup to his lips, but he lowered it again without sipping. “How bad?”
“Can you give me an
example of what ‘way bad’ might entail?
I’m still a little hazy on just how bad things can actually get.”
Holly set aside the prepared
muffin pan and reached for the next one.
She seemed surprisingly casual for someone discussing dire portents
about his eminent journey. “It’s hard to
say for sure. But I’m certain that
anyone near that lake is in terrible danger.”
Karen frowned at Holly. “One of your spells told you all this?”
Eric met Holly Shorring the
previous summer. She was a member of a
coven of witches who had sought his help against a powerful and murderous
wizard who was hunting them down one by one.
Although he hadn’t believed in magic when he met her, she and her
sisters had thoroughly convinced him otherwise.
(He didn’t understand it, but he absolutely believed
Holly was young, only twenty,
and strikingly beautiful. She also
possessed a remarkably endearing personality.
She was sweet, kind, resourceful and clever. Everyone who had met her since she moved to
Creek Bend adored her.
But when he first laid
eyes on her, she was dancing provocatively on a stage in a nude bar in rural
Karen had been
understandably irate about him returning home just prior to their wedding
anniversary with a gorgeous, young stripper.
And she still hadn’t let it go. Nor
would she. Ever. She had no intention of letting him forget it
as long as they both lived, regardless of how and why it happened. And he could hardly blame her. He knew perfectly well how fortunate he was
to have survived that ordeal, and with all his bits and bobs intact, no
At the same time, however,
Karen had managed to harbor not a single ounce of ill will toward Holly. In fact, like everyone else, she’d quickly
grown quite fond of the girl. She’d taken
her under her wing and treated her like a member of the family almost from the
start. Hardly a day went by when she
wasn’t here in this kitchen, helping Karen with her baking, or out assisting
with a delivery.
Eric had long ago stopped
trying to point out that if he’d never brought her home, Karen would have
missed out on having such a dear friend enter her life. That was not the point. That had nothing to do with it. His crimes remained unforgiveable, regardless
of her fondness for the very object of her insatiable wrath.
(He’d also long since
stopped trying to makes sense of the situation.)
It didn’t hurt that Holly
and Karen had turned out to have a lot in common. They were practically made to be best
friends. They could’ve been long-lost
sisters. For starters, Holly was a skilled
baker in her own right. She had a particularly
special talent for making cookies.
Also, Holly had a peculiar
way of encouraging people to be nice to her.
It was a gift she possessed, a sort of psychic power of suggestion. She was a sweet girl who wanted everyone to
like her, and so almost everyone who met her found her instantly
(But Karen insisted that
this curious ability had nothing to do with it, of course.)
“Did your spells tell you
anything else?” asked Eric.
“Not that I could really
understand,” she told him. “Not yet,
anyway. Just random images. Nothing that makes much sense.”
“I guess that explains
the funny space men.”
She shrugged her
shoulders. “It’s all a little wonky. Maybe once you’re there it’ll be clearer. I’ll call you if I see anything else.”
Karen cocked her head and
tucked a strand of her brown hair behind her ear. “Wait…
You’re not going with him?”
“Not this time. The spell said he has to do this on his
“Oh…” Karen hadn’t intended to let her go without a
fight. She’d made it her business to
take care of the girl, after all. But
she hadn’t expected to win that argument, much less that there would be no
argument at all.
Eric nodded. “Then that’s settled,” he decided. He was relieved, actually. As helpful as she’d be if he took her with
him (she had saved his life more than
once) he was thankful to not have to worry about her getting hurt. Especially since people always managed to get hurt on these weird adventures. “I should get going.”
“Oh, and stay away from
the water,” added Holly. “At least until
I know more.”
“No swimming,” confirmed
Eric. “Got it.”
“What’s wrong with the
water?” asked Karen.
“There’s blood in it,”
Karen shook her
head. “Why do I ask these things?” She turned to Eric, looking him over. “Maybe I
should go with you.”
“You’ve got too much to
do,” he replied quickly, gesturing at the cupcakes. The last thing he wanted was for her to tag
along. He’d never forgive himself if
anything happened to her.
“Jess would take over for
me if I called her,” she reasoned.
“You’d never trust anyone
to take over one of your jobs,” he challenged.
“Jess is very talented. I know she could handle it.”
“You’d worry about it the
whole time you were gone.”
She knit her
eyebrows. He was right, of course, but
she wasn’t about to admit it. She took
an enormous amount of pride in her work, especially when the job was for
something as special as a wedding. It
had nothing to do with how much she trusted anyone else to do the job. Once she’d made a commitment to do something,
she always saw it through to the end.
(Like when she committed
herself to never letting him forget how he mucked up their last anniversary
“He has to do it on his
own,” Holly explained. “Neither of us are supposed to go.”
“There you go,” said
Eric, trying not to sound too relieved. “Can’t
argue with magic.”
Karen fixed her eyes on
Holly for a moment. Although her
expression was only thoughtful, he thought he could almost see the real
emotions swirling behind her dark eyes.
She knew he was right. She
couldn’t just abandon her responsibilities here. It was her job to make sure these cupcakes were
finished, were beautiful, and were on display in the church before the guests
began arriving tomorrow afternoon. It
wasn’t even about the money she’d already been paid. It was about keeping her word and ensuring
that her part of someone’s beautiful day was as perfect as she could make
But she also didn’t care
for being told what to do. If she wanted
to accompany her husband into the unknown, why shouldn’t she be able to? It was also her responsibility to take care
of him, to make sure he was safe. What
kind of wife would she be if she didn’t do everything in her power to protect
him? And this self-proclaimed witch had
no business telling her otherwise.
Yet the deepest truth of
all was that while she was afraid for him, she was even more afraid to go with
him. The things he’d described to her,
the terrible things he’d seen… She was
too cowardly to even sit through a horror movie, much less to live through one. The first time this happened, she didn’t
believe it. She thought it was some kind
of early mid-life crisis kind of episode, that he’d subconsciously begun to
feel trapped in his mundane, English teacher existence and realized that he was
only getting older. He just needed a
little adventure to make him feel young again.
Even when everything started getting weird and he began describing the
insane things he was seeing over the phone, she didn’t really believe it. Not even when he began sending her
pictures. She told herself it had to be
a prank of some sort. At worst, she
feared that he might be suffering a serious psychological break, but that was
even more terrifying than the idea that all these things were real, so in the
end, she’d just gone along with it, almost numb to it all. But it was
real. And she had no idea how he
kept doing these things. If she’d been
with him when that first golem burst from the old wardrobe in that empty
house… Well, she doubted very much that
she would’ve handled it with half the bravado as her courageous husband (and
he’d confidentially admitted to her that he pretty much just ran away screaming
like a girl).
And now Holly was telling
her she wasn’t supposed to go…
Finally, she let out an
exasperated sigh and met his gaze again.
“You be careful out there.”
“I always am.”
“No, you’re not. You’re always getting yourself bitten by
things and falling from high places.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘always’…”
“Or getting sliced up by
something with huge claws.”
“But I always come home,
She did remember. It was the one thing he brought back from his
time with Holly’s coven that hadn’t earned him her fiery wrath: A prophecy of sorts. A magic spell had given him an assurance that
although he would continue to be called away on these strange journeys, he
would always return to her. It was a
heartening message and it helped to ease her fears. But only a little. “I still don’t know how much I trust this
witchcraft stuff,” she told him.
Eric glanced at
Holly. He recalled his brief time with
the coven the previous July, all that he went through, all that he saw. “I trust her
magic,” he told her. And it was the
Karen stared thoughtfully
at him and said nothing. Though Holly
had offered to teach her to use spells, too, she’d refused. In fact, she’d discouraged the girl from
using any magic while she lived in Creek Bend.
It wasn’t that she disapproved, exactly.
After all, this magic had saved her husband’s life. But she found the very concept difficult to
handle. It seemed so unnatural.
Holly hadn’t pushed the
matter. After all, she hardly needed to
rely on witchcraft in her everyday life.
A man she called “Grandpa,” but who wasn’t a father to either of her
parents, had long ago taught her that magic wasn’t something one relied on for
just anything. It was only for emergencies. Or special circumstances. Like these dreams Eric was having, for
“Paul won’t be able to
help this time,” said Karen.
“I know.” Paul was his older brother. Usually, Karen would call him soon after Eric
left and send him to keep an eye on her wayward husband. But today Paul, his wife, Monica, and his
son, Kevin, were in Minnesota for a wedding.
“It doesn’t matter. He wasn’t
much help last time, remember.”
“That wasn’t his fault.”
“I know. But I still don’t need him.” In fact, he’d prefer that Paul, like Karen
and Holly, stay well away from whatever bizarre trouble he was heading
into. It was hard enough worrying about
his own ass out there, without having to be concerned about someone else’s
“Have Isabelle keep me
She gave him a kiss and
then turned back to her mixing bowls.
“Well, get going. You wouldn’t
want to be late for whatever trouble you’re about to get yourself into.”
She was good. He could almost believe she really wasn’t
concerned about him.
Eric snatched up his
keys. “No. I guess I wouldn’t.”
“I love you. Be
“I love you, too,” he
assured her. He headed for the
“Good luck,” said
As he opened the door,
Karen added, “And try not to bring home any more strippers, ‘kay?”