Blood Red: New Excerpt

Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub is the first thriller in a new series set in Mundy's Landing, a picturesque town in New York's Hudson Valley with an unsolved murderous past (available September 29, 2015).

The razor's gleaming blade slices effortlessly through skin and tendon, and he relishes the final anguished moments of his prey. There's only one thing he prizes more: their long, silken strands of red hair. But these women are merely stand-ins . . . a prelude to his ultimate victim.

Nestled in New York's Hudson Valley, Mundy's Landing is famous for its picturesque setting—and for a century-old string of gruesome unsolved murders. Rowan returned to her hometown years ago, fleeing a momentary mistake that could have destroyed her family. Life is good here. Peaceful. Until an anonymous gift brings Rowan's fears to life again.

The town's violent history was just the beginning. Soon everyone in Mundy's Landing will know that the past cannot be forgotten or forgiven—not until every sin has been paid for, in blood.

 

Prologue

March 22, 2015
Erie, Pennsylvania

She isn’t the first redhead to cross Casey’s path on this blustery Sunday evening. She’s not even the best fit.

Earlier, there was a woman in the frozen foods aisle who had exactly the right look. Her hair was, if not naturally red, then at least dyed the appropriate cinnamon shade. It was pulled into a ponytail, but if the elastic band were to be yanked away, it would undoubtedly fall in waves to the middle of her back.

Casey’s fingers clenched the metal hand bars of the crutches, itching to sink into that hair and pull hard so that her head jerked back and her neck arched, the creamy skin of her throat begging to be sliced open by a freshly honed blade. Her eyes were probably green, though she wasn’t standing close enough to be sure. Even if the pupils weren’t the distinct and exquisite blend of sage and olive that have always reminded Casey of military camouflage, the rest of her was dead-on.

She was petite, but not too skinny; fair-skinned at first glance. If it were summer, the faint scatter of freckles across the bridge of her nose and her cheekbones would be plainly visible, but in winter, you’d have to look hard to see them.

Yes, that first woman would have been perfect.

But she had a baby strapped across her chest in a sling and a toddler on board her shopping cart heaped high with boxes of diapers and cereal and cartons of milk and juice.

“Sierra, stop that,” she said patiently as the child in the cart threw a sippy cup onto the floor yet again, laughing gleefully each time the woman stooped to pick it up.

Casey sensed her glancing over as if hoping to exchange a kids-do-the-darnedest-things eye roll.

Sorry, sweetheart. You’re not going to get that from me.

Casey swung the crutches into motion and hobbled around the corner, leaving her behind. Clearly, she had her hands full already.

A little later, in the hardware section, there was another redhead. She was wandering up and down the aisles in search of something.

“Excuse me,” she said to Casey the second time they passed each other, “have you seen rock salt anywhere?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“I bet they’re sold out, too. Every store is because of the ice storm, but someone told me they had it here. Oh well, thanks.”

“No problem.” Casey watched her wander away.

She had almost the right build, albeit a little too padded, but her coloring was off. A true ginger, she had wiry shoulder-length hair and a ruddy, speckled complexion.

Casey decided to keep her in mind and move on. If no one better came along, she would do in a pinch.

Someone better has come along.

This new woman is in the pharmacy department, dropping off a prescription.

Feigning interest in an Ace bandage display, Casey watches her approach the counter. She’s alone, and she does have dark red hair, though that’s where the resemblance stops. She’s tall, curvy, and olive-skinned with Mediterranean features. But there’s something about her: something about the way she walks, about the facial expression that radiates . . . goodness.

But you’re not good, are you? And nobody knows that but you . . . and me.

An old man with a walker is heading in the same direction. Many people would have skirted around him, but the redhead takes her time, allowing him to get to the counter first. She waits patiently while he searches his pockets for his prescription bottles, at least half a dozen of them.

Seeing this, Casey nods with satisfaction.

When it’s her turn to hand over the prescription, the pharmacist checks the shelves. “I have it in stock, but it’s going to be about fifteen minutes. Do you want to wait for it or come back tomorrow?”

She’ll wait. She isn’t in a rush. Good.

Casey leaves her behind in the pharmacy department, finds a cart, and maneuvers it awkwardly, tossing in enough items to fill several bags. The clock is ticking.

There’s a line at the single checkout lane.

Fifteen minutes . . . fifteen minutes . . .

At last, the cashier rings up the items, asking, “Do you need a hand getting out to your car?”

“No, thank you.” Casey balances on the crutches and hands over cash.

“Are you sure?” According to her name tag, the cashier’s name is Althea and she wants to know how she may help you.

“Positive,” Casey says briskly, silently answering the name tag’s printed question: You may help me by moving a little faster, handing over my change, and then forgetting you ever saw me.

The redhead from the pharmacy appears, heading toward the front of the store.

Althea persists: “I can call someone to—”

“No, I’m fine.” The words come out too sharply, and Althea frowns slightly as she painstakingly takes a couple of bills and coins from the drawer and starts to hand it over in an agonizingly unhurried manner.

Casey grabs the cash, thrusting it into the back pocket that doesn’t contain a waiting wad of dry cleaning plastic before quickly wrestling the crutches and cart toward the door, a few steps behind the redhead.

Outside, sleet falls from the night sky and a gusting wind propels a wayward store flyer across the parking lot. The woman hastily puts up the hood of her jacket, obliterating the view of that glorious red hair, which gives Casey momentary pause.

Maybe she isn’t the right stand-in.

Stand-in—that’s how Casey has come to think of the women, like an almighty casting director who aims to spare the leading lady until opening night.

I decide who gets to live or die on any given day. It’s all up to me. I control their fates.

Maybe there’s someone else, someone better . . .

No. It’s now or never. Casey has to leave town first thing tomorrow morning, and there will be no extending the stay and no coming back for her. Those are important rules, self-imposed and designed to stay one step ahead of the authorities.

One step? Try miles. They’re so far behind they have yet to connect any of the stand-ins to each other.

The new candidate pauses to zip her jacket, allowing Casey to catch up to and then pass her, making a show of clumsiness with the cart and crutches, stumbling and nearly falling.

“Whoa—do you need a hand?” she asks.

Casey turns with a relieved smile. “That would be great. I’m still getting used to moving around on these things. Guess I didn’t realize it would be so hard to push a cart.”

“Here, I’ve got it.” She grabs the handle. She’s not wearing any rings, and the skin on her hands looks soft and smooth. Casey imagines her rubbing almond-scented lotion into them; imagines the fingers clutching and clawing, the nails broken, knuckles raw and bloodied.

“Where’s your car?”

“Over there.” Casey points out into a dark and distant corner of the lot before pushing the crutches into motion, leaning and hopping fluidly alongside the redhead and the cart.

“The store was a lot more crowded when I got here,” Casey adds as they pass one empty space after another. “It took me forever to find what I needed and get out of there.”

“I can imagine. You don’t have a disability parking sticker?”

“No, not . . . yet. My doctor is working on it, though.”

“What happened?” She gestures down at the blue mesh post-op shoe strapped to Casey’s “bad” foot.

“My walkway was a sheet of ice on Tuesday. I slipped and broke it.”

“That stinks.” She nods, accepting the explanation. Just another casualty in a massive storm that brought down trees and power lines, caused a massive pileup on the interstate, and resulted in eleven lives lost.

Soon to be an even dozen, Casey thinks smugly. But of course, she won’t be added to the official toll.

It’ll be another of my little secrets.

They’ve almost reached the van parked beneath a burned-out lamppost.

Well—not burned out. The rubber tip of one of Casey’s crutches comes down on what looks like a sliver of ice, but of course it’s a shard of glass from the overhead bulb that had been easily shattered with a well-aimed rock last night, long after the store had closed and the parking lot had emptied.

Casey pulls out the keys, presses a button, and the van’s back hatch unlatches and rises slowly. No interior light though. It, too, has been disabled, long before last night.

“Thanks so much,” Casey says as the woman parks the shopping cart near the rear bumper.

“No problem.”

She smiles and starts to turn away, never seeing the metal crutch arcing into the air before it slams into her head; never feeling the hand that roughly jerks down the hood of her jacket and briefly caresses her long red hair before yanking her into the van.

Copyright © 2015 Wendy Corsi Staub.

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USA Today and New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than seventy novels and has twice been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She lives in the New York City suburbs with her husband and their two children.

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