The Dark Within (Amber Lee Mysteries Book 7)

By: Katerina Martinez

PROLOGUE





I haven’t seen the sun in weeks. Haven’t felt the moon on my cheeks or the wind in my hair, haven’t heard the voice of my friends. This place of silence and darkness I inhabit is like a prison; a tomb of my own crafting. I thought I could embrace the wolf at first, use it as a weapon to fight the growing darkness inside of me. Then when things got too bad I thought I could hide from it, find what was left of my inner light and wrap it around myself before… before it was too late.

But the truth is I still smell her everywhere, and I’m dangerous as long as she lingers.





CHAPTER 1





Aaron Cooper woke up alone. He reached to find Amber with the slow, sludgy panic of bad dreams but then it hit him; Amber wasn’t here.

Sighing, he wiped the sleep from his face with his hand and ran his fingers through his hair. It had gotten long, and his scruffy beard was coming out fighting too. He hadn’t noticed the stubble on his cheeks or the thickness of his hair until now, though it had been three weeks since he last did anything to trim the growth.

He dragged himself to the window, picking his phone up from the bedside table as he went, and stared out into the dark grave of the morning. It was bitterly cold, even indoors. First snow had fallen during the night. Above the line of trees, the sky was already starting to pale with morning light. Beneath them, though, all was dark.

05:13.

It was early. Aaron had barely gotten three hours of sleep. He wondered how many Amber had been allowed tonight. Not many, probably. Amber didn’t sleep much these nights. When she did get some sleep, Aaron slept. When she needed to eat, Aaron would hunt for fresh game and toss raw cutlets into the cellar, and then he would wait to hear her rouse and attack the piece of meat like an animal. Raw. Primal. Hungry. Aaron’s salivary glands started to work and his stomach let out a grumble, but he heard something else underneath the grumble.

No. Not underneath it, but alongside it.

He turned on his heel and faced the bedroom door. It was shut. All was still and quiet save for the raucous chorus of rowdy crows outside. But that was odd too because until a moment ago they had been still. It was as if something had caused them to stir. Amber? Has she gotten out? Fear entered his heart and drew the calmness out. Tension wormed its way into his muscles and he edged toward the door, one silent step after another, reaching for the knob with an outstretched hand.

The metal was cold as ice against his warm palm. He turned it, pulled, and the door croaked open like some fat toad stretching its voice out. He didn’t think he would ever get used to the sounds this old cabin made, but staying out here—in the middle of the woods—was better than being in town with all those people around.

When the door opened, he pushed himself into the corridor and scanned left and right, but was met with silence. Silence and dawn-light in the Eastern facing window. He wanted to call her name, but he decided against it. If Amber had made the sound he had just heard then it meant she had somehow gotten out… and he would need the element of surprise if he wanted to guarantee his own survival.

Careful not to make a sound on the old wooden floorboards, Aaron stalked across the short hallway connecting the bedroom and the kitchen. He could smell the dead fire in the air—the soot, the wood—and could feel the way the very atmosphere seemed to be charged; charged and cold. It was like walking into a fridge possessing its own static current.

Then, he heard another noise; footfalls, three of them in quick succession.

That was all the encouragement Aaron needed. In three hard strides he was in the kitchen, then in the living room, and then in the second bedroom. Nothing. He heard the footsteps again and turned, heart pounding in his chest, his arms, his throat, hot anger swelling up inside. Another few strides and he was back in the hall, but this time he could hear someone running ahead of him, toward his bedroom.

Aaron closed the gap, breathing hard, and made it to the bedroom door in time to watch it slam shut with intent.

“Amber!” he said, but it wasn’t Amber. Whoever it was that had just gone into his room didn’t have a scent; there was only the cold.

He charged the door, pulled on the knob, and opened it expecting resistance but finding none. The room was quiet, but it felt like there were millions of tiny shards of ice in the air, cutting his flesh and causing it to prickle. “Who’s in here?” he said with enough authority in his tone to mask the pinch of panic gripping the back of his throat.

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