River's End

By: Nora Roberts


Prologue


The monster was back. The smell of him was blood. The sound of him was terror. She had no choice but to run, and this time to run toward him. The lush wonder of forest that had once been her haven, that had always been her sanctuary, spun into a nightmare. The towering majesty of the trees was no longer a grand testament to nature’s vigor, but a living cage that could trap her, conceal him. The luminous carpet of moss was a bubbling bog that sucked at her boots. She ripped through ferns, rending their sodden fans to slimy tatters, skidded over a rotted log and destroyed the burgeoning life it nursed.

Green shadows slipped in front of her, beside her, behind her, seemed to whisper her name.

Livvy, my love. Let me tell you a story.

Breath sobbed out of her lungs, set to grieving by fear and loss. The blood that still stained her fingertips had gone ice-cold.

Rain fell, a steady drumming against the windswept canopy, a sly trickle over lichen-draped bark. It soaked into the greedy ground until the whole world was wet and ripe and somehow hungry.

She forgot whether she was hunter or hunted, only knew through some deep primal instinct that movement was survival.

She would find him, or he would find her. And somehow it would be finished. She would not end as a coward. And if there was any light in the world, she would find the man she loved. Alive.

She curled the blood she knew was his into the palm of her hand and held it like hope.

Fog snaked around her boots, broke apart at her long, reckless strides. Her heartbeat battered her ribs, her temples, her fingertips in a feral, pulsing rhythm. She heard the crack overhead, the thunder snap of it, and leaped aside as a branch, weighed down by water and wind and time, crashed to the forest floor. A little death that meant fresh life.

She closed her hand over the only weapon she had and knew she would kill to live. And through the deep green light haunted by darker shadows, she saw the monster as she remembered him in her nightmares.

Covered with blood, and watching her.





Olivia


A simple child that lightly draws its breath,And feels its life in every limb,What should it know of death?

— William Wordsworth





One

Beverly Hills, 1979

Olivia was four when the monster came. It shambled into dreams that were not dreams and ripped away with bloody hands the innocence monsters covet most. On a night in high summer, when the moon was bright and full as a child’s heart and the breeze was softly perfumed with roses and jasmine, it stalked into the house to hunt, to slaughter, to leave behind the indifferent dark and the stink of blood. Nothing was the same after the monster came. The lovely house with its many generous rooms and acres of glossy floors would forever carry the smear of his ghost and the silver-edged echo of Olivia’s lost innocence.

Her mother had told her there weren’t any monsters. They were only pretend, and her bad dreams only dreams. But the night she saw the monster, heard it, smelled it, her mother couldn’t tell her it wasn’t real.

And there was no one left to sit on the bed, to stroke her hair and tell her pretty stories until she slipped back into sleep.

Her daddy told the best stories, wonderfully silly ones with pink giraffes and two-headed cows. But he’d gotten sick, and the sickness had made him do bad things and say bad words in a loud, fast voice that wasn’t like Daddy’s at all. He’d had to go away. Her mother had told her he’d had to go away until he wasn’t sick anymore. That’s why he could only come to see her sometimes, and Mama or Aunt Jamie or Uncle David had to stay right in the room the whole time. Once, she’d been allowed to go to Daddy’s new house on the beach. Aunt Jamie and Uncle David had taken her, and she’d been fascinated and delighted to watch through the wide glass wall as the waves lifted and fell, to see the water stretch and stretch into forever where it bumped right into the sky.

Then Daddy wanted to take her out on the beach to play, to build sand castles, just the two of them. But her aunt had said no. It wasn’t allowed. They’d argued, at first in those low, hissing voices adults never think children can hear. But Olivia had heard and, hearing, had sat by that big window to stare harder and harder at the water. And as the voices got louder, she made herself not hear because they hurt her stomach and made her throat burn.

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