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Face of Fear

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Face of Fear



Blake Pierce

Blake Pierce is the USA Today bestselling author of the RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes seventeen books. Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising thirteen books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising six books; of the KERI LOCKE mystery series, comprising five books; of the MAKING OF RILEY PAIGE mystery series, comprising six books; of the KATE WISE mystery series, comprising seven books; of the CHLOE FINE psychological suspense mystery, comprising six books; of the JESSE HUNT psychological suspense thriller series, comprising seven books (and counting); of the AU PAIR psychological suspense thriller series, comprising two books (and counting); of the ZOE PRIME mystery series, comprising three books (and counting); and of the new ADELE SHARP mystery series.

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit to learn more and stay in touch.

Copyright © 2020 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright used under license from



LEFT TO DIE (Book #1)

LEFT TO RUN (Book #2)

LEFT TO HIDE (Book #3)








FACE OF FEAR (Book #3)











NEXT DOOR (Book #1)


CUL DE SAC (Book #3)





IF SHE KNEW (Book #1)

IF SHE SAW (Book #2)

IF SHE RAN (Book #3)

IF SHE HID (Book #4)

IF SHE FLED (Book #5)


IF SHE HEARD (Book #7)


WATCHING (Book #1)

WAITING (Book #2)

LURING (Book #3)

TAKING (Book #4)

STALKING (Book #5)

KILLING (Book #6)


ONCE GONE (Book #1)

ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)


ONCE LURED (Book #4)


ONCE PINED (Book #6)


ONCE COLD (Book #8)


ONCE LOST (Book #10)

ONCE BURIED (Book #11)

ONCE BOUND (Book #12)




ONCE MISSED (Book #16)

ONCE CHOSEN (Book #17)


















CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)












Callie shoved her hands deeper into her pockets, hooking her elbow in such a way that it pressed the handbag over her shoulder further against her side. It was the kind of precaution that she always took when visiting Javier, a friend of hers with a serious talent for art.

They’d met at college, and while Callie had already been forced into an office job, Javier was at least taking a shot at his dreams. Of course, living as an artist with student debt meant he didn’t live in the best of neighborhoods. There were times when Callie, being an attractive young woman, didn’t feel safe here.

But that, she reminded herself as the backs of her fingers brushed against the cool exterior of the canister, was why she always carried pepper spray in her pocket.

She had an exit plan, too: spray and run, depending on where she had managed to get to. There was a little alleyway she had to cross through to get to Javi’s studio apartment, and it also represented the turning point. Before she reached it, she knew the quickest route was to run back on her footsteps, out to the main street where she could find safety in numbers. Past the halfway point, she would run to Javi’s door and scream into the intercom until he buzzed her in.

It wasn’t that she spent all of her time preoccupied with the potential dangers of the place she was walking toward. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Callie had come up with this plan the second time she had ever visited Javi there, and since then she was free to daydream on the way over to his place. To daydream about the tattoo he was drawing for her, and what it would look like.

They had been working on designs together for a couple of years, ever since she got her first. She’d loved it so much that she had begged him to make her another, and this would be the third time one of his designs decorated her body. There was something strangely intimate about it, though they had never been lovers. Something about the way his work trailed across her skin, the one gesture of rebellion against the corporate lifestyle she was no doubt going to have to endure for decades.

Or maybe not. Maybe she could find a way out, to do the things she really loved. Start her own business, even though she hadn’t figured out what it would be yet. Callie could still hope.

She stepped down into the alleyway, past an overturned garbage can and a mural of graffiti that had since been tagged over by kids with spray cans. Art, covered by the kind of inane scrawl that made cities want to crack down on graffiti in the first place. It was a shame. The California sun that had been shining down on her face disappeared, replaced with the cool shade between tall buildings, leaving her eyes to adjust to new gloom.

At the opposite end of the alley, a man entered, coming in her direction. Callie stiffened a little, taking him in while trying to pretend she was looking at the ground to his left. He had a hoodie pulled up over his head, his face in shadows, his hands deep into his pockets just like hers.

She couldn’t make out his identity. That could be bad news, in a place like this. It could mean that he didn’t want his identity known. A bad sign.

Callie’s fingers curled and wrapped around the pepper spray, her arm muscles tensing as she thought about using it. She would pull it out in one swift motion, aim it at his face—she used the tip of her index finger to find the nozzle so that it would be the right way around—and then spray. Spray and run.

She stepped up her pace, thinking that the quicker she passed him, the less chance he would have of getting the upper hand. She looked down the distance between them, trying to figure it out. A glance up at the sky. Was she halfway yet? Would it be quicker to run forward or back? Javi was expecting her. Maybe if she ran to him, he would let her in quicker. Yes, she would run to Javi.

She held her breath as the man came closer, trying to keep walking forward as if nothing was happening, but gripping the pepper spray harder than ever. She was primed, ready to go—

He passed by her without incident.

Callie breathed again, mentally telling herself off for being so paranoid. That was what happened to people who were overprepared. Who thought too much about getting attacked in alleyways.

Javi would laugh about this. She would tell him, even though it was embarrassing. He would laugh warmly and tell her he would protect her from the big scary men. It would be a bonding moment between them.

Unexpectedly, Callie was pulled off balance, just when she was breathing easy again. Something from behind. Him, she realized—it had to be. He had her around the shoulders, one of his arms pulled around her. Back toward him. Her shoulder blades collided with his chest, and something was pulling across her throat—something sharp—something—


She wanted to yell for help, yell for Javi, scream, but when she tried, the air only bubbled out through her throat, through the new opening he had made. He had cut her throat. Something hot was cascading across her chest—she knew what it was—her own blood.

With a moment of clarity unlike any she had ever felt, Callie Everard knew that she was going to die.

Dying, even. It was happening, right now, actively, and she was never going to see Javi to get that tattoo design and she was never going to follow her dream of being her own boss and she was never going to own that Mercedes she had set her eyes on when she read that a famous fashion editor drove one. Callie’s hands clutched at her throat, slipping on the blood, and she could only grasp at the edges of the new opening, the geography of which made no sense to her searching fingers.

Callie fell, unaware that she was doing it until she registered that she was looking up at the sky and therefore had to be on her back. She strained one last time to make a noise, desperately sucking in air through her open mouth and trying to expel it again in a shout. All she heard was another gush of blood from her wound, the oxygen bubbling out in it, not even reaching her lungs.

It was only another moment before Callie stopped seeing anything at all, and stopped breathing, and then it was only her body that lay abandoned in the alleyway. A shell. Her soul, or her consciousness, or whatever it was that was Callie, long gone.


Zoe set down her glass on the table, trying not to let herself calculate the volume of water still remaining inside it. It was a losing battle, of course. She was always going to see the numbers, whether she wanted to or not.

“What do you think?”

“Hmm?” Zoe looked up guiltily, meeting John’s waiting brown eyes.

She expected him to lose his patience, but she still had never managed to push him that far. Instead he gave her a gentle smile, one of those lopsided smiles of his that went higher on the right side of his face than the left. He always seemed to be giving her those smiles, forgiving her for something or other. Zoe didn’t really know that she deserved it.

“What’s on your mind?” John asked.

Zoe tried to mold her face into something that would convincingly tell him she was fine. “Oh, nothing,” she said, and then, feeling that perhaps this wasn’t the best answer: “Just work stuff.”

“You can tell me about it, you know,” John said, slipping his hand over hers on the table. She felt his calm heartbeat thumping slowly through his thumb where it pressed on her skin, slower than hers. Slower by a long shot.

Great. Zoe had made up a quick excuse, and now he was asking for details. Now what was she supposed to do? “It is an open case,” she said, shrugging, hoping he buy it. “I cannot really talk about the details until it goes to trial.”

John nodded, seeming to accept this. Zoe breathed an internal sigh of relief. She had to focus, not count the four times his head tipped forward at a thirty-degree angle and the shine on his well-kept brown hair appeared in the lights, or the six glasses going by on the tray held by the five-foot-six waitress or the—

Zoe blinked, trying to refocus her eyes on John and her ears on what he was saying.

“So, I had to say to him, ‘Sorry, Mike, but it’s such a shame I have to go out on a date tonight,’” he laughed.

Zoe frowned. “You could have rescheduled if the date is inconvenient to you,” she said. “I would not mind.”

“What? No!” John said, at first leaning back in alarm and then grasping her hand again. “God, no, Zoe. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again. That was just—I was being sarcastic. Or ironic, or something. I always forget which is which. Honestly, I wouldn’t cancel our date just for a work thing.”

Zoe’s eyes flicked down to her plate, by now empty of the excellent salmon roulades with lemon beurre blanc that had been her main course. This was the most recommended date spot in Washington, D.C., for a meal, and she could barely remember eating it.

She wasn’t sure that she could say that she would always put John first. After all, she was an FBI agent. She was expected to drop her life in order to pursue a case, not the other way around. She reached up self-consciously to tuck a strand of her short brown hair behind her ear, feeling as she did that it was one centimeter longer than she liked to have it cut. Things had been hectic lately. No time for the daily tasks that kept life going.

“I mean, of course I get it that you might have to cancel sometimes,” John said, sipping at his wine nonchalantly as if he hadn’t just managed to read her mind. “You have to stop serial killers from going on murder sprees. Your job is important. No one’s going to be upset if I don’t stay at the office all night trying to figure out if there’s a common property line across three different surveys from the 1800s and whether they can be applied to my client’s case. Except maybe my client, and he will be benefitted by the excellent mood I’ll wake up in tomorrow knowing that I spent my evening with you.”

“You are too nice to me,” Zoe told him. “Always. I do not understand it.”

It was true; she didn’t. She had messed up their first date completely, and on their second, she had dragged him out to a hospital to try and trace the records of a potential killer. Then he’d waited for her in the cold, because she—unthinkingly—had not bothered to tell him that she could find her own way home. Not many men would have wanted to sign up for a third date—and this was their fifth.

“You don’t have to understand it,” John said, smoothing his tie for the eleventh time that night in a gesture that she was beginning to recognize. “You just have to accept my opinion that you deserve it. I’m not being too nice. I’m being just nice enough. In fact, I could be nicer.”

“You could not be nicer. It would be against the laws of physics and nature.”

“Well, who needs those, anyway?” John flashed her that bright smile of his again and leaned back as the waiter collected their empty plates.

“So, what are you working on at the moment?” she asked, thinking she should try to take more of an interest in his life. He was always so attentive in asking about hers. Was she messing everything up? She was messing everything up, wasn’t she?

“Like I told you, it’s the ancestral property line row,” John said, giving her a little puzzled frown. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

Zoe looked up at him, meeting his eyes with pupils that were just slightly dilated in the dim light of the restaurant, hearing the four beats of the gentle piano music in the background and how each note moved one up, one down, one up, half a note up, one down. If only she could turn the numbers off, or at least dim their volume. She needed to focus on John and what he was telling her, but nothing in her brain would stop. She just needed it to stop. Everything was spiraling, and she was no longer sure that she could regain control.

“I guess I am a little tired,” she said. As far as excuses went, it seemed like it might be semi-acceptable. If there could ever be any excuse for failing to give him the courtesy of her attention.

He didn’t know about her ability to see the numbers everywhere, in everything, and she wasn’t about to tell him. Not for the fourteen hundred fifty-three dollars and nineteen cents’ worth of dishes and drinks she had seen pass by their table in the hands of the wait staff since they sat down one hour and thirteen minutes ago.

“I have had a wonderful night,” she said. The worst part was that she meant it. When John spent all of their time together being accommodating and making her feel good, why couldn’t she at least listen to him?

“Well, I had an awful time. Shall we do it again next week?” he said, wiping his smile with a napkin. Even though he glimmered at her, his eyes sparking with a mischievousness that match the uneven curves of his mouth, it still took her a moment to realize he was joking. The words cut her to the core at the thought she might have ruined everything

“I would like that,” Zoe said, nodding, holding her emotions inside. “Next week it is.”

She got up to go, knowing by now that he would refuse to allow her to pay the ninety-eight dollars and thirty-two cents they had racked up on the bill, plus the tip.

Though it flashed through her mind, she didn’t say out loud that it would take luck for her to keep their appointment. Being an active agent meant that you never knew when your next case would come in, or where you would be required to go.

By this time next week, who knew where she might be?

Even right at this moment, their next killer was probably doing his work, setting them a puzzle—and there was always a chance that the next one would be the one she couldn’t solve. Zoe fought the uneasy feeling in her gut, somehow convincing her that she knew: this time next week, she would be in deep on a case that would make all the others seem like child’s play.


Zoe adjusted her position on the seat, settling further into the comfortable old armchair. She was getting used to sitting here, strange as it sounded even to her own ears that she was becoming accustomed to therapy.

Talking to someone week on week about her personal issues had once seemed like Zoe’s own idea of hell, but having Dr. Lauren Monk on her side so far hadn’t turned out so badly. After all, Dr. Monk was the one who had encouraged her to go on more dates with John, and that had, so far at least, been a good decision.

On her part, anyway. She was beginning to wonder whether John could say the same.

“So, tell me about this date. What happened?” Dr. Monk asked, adjusting her notebook on her knee.

Zoe sighed. “I just could not concentrate,” she said. “The numbers were taking over. It was all I could think about. I missed whole sentences of his conversation. I wanted to give him my full attention, but I could not switch it off.”

Dr. Monk nodded seriously, resting her hand on her chin. Since the session when Zoe had come clean about her synesthesia—her ability to see numbers everywhere and in everything, like the fact that Dr. Monk’s pen was heavier than average due to the slight fifteen-degree angle of droop as it rested on the edge of her fingers compared to that of a BIC—she had been finding the therapy even more helpful. It was freeing in many ways, to be able to really admit what was going on and how she was struggling.

There were few people in the world who knew about Zoe’s synesthesia. There was Dr. Monk, and Dr. Francesca Applewhite, who had been Zoe’s mentor since her college days. Then there was her partner at the bureau, Special Agent Shelley Rose.

And that was it. She didn’t even need all of the fingers on her hand to count them. Those were the only people that she had ever trusted enough to tell since her first diagnosis—from a doctor whom she hadn’t seen since that day. Deliberately so. For a long time, she had thought that there might have been some way to run away from or ignore the ability that her mother called the devil’s magic.

But so long as it was helping her to solve crimes, Zoe couldn’t say that she wanted it gone. Not anymore. It just would be useful if it would quiet down when she was trying to forge a romantic relationship, which didn’t require specific measurements of the liquid in each glass or the distance between John’s eyes.

“What might be helpful is if we come up with some ways, together, that could help you turn down the volume—quiet your brain down, so to speak,” Dr. Monk said. “Is that something that you’d like to explore?”

Zoe nodded, startled by the lump that had taken over her throat at the thought of being able to do that. “Yes,” she managed. “That would be great.”

“All right.” Dr. Monk thought for a moment, tapping the pen absentmindedly against her collarbone. Zoe had noticed this habit, always an even number of taps.

“Why do you do that?” she blurted out, only to be embarrassed a second later that she had asked.

Dr. Monk was looking at her in surprise. “You mean, tapping on my collarbone?”

“Sorry. That is your personal business. You do not have to tell me.”

Dr. Monk smiled. “I don’t mind. Actually, it’s something I picked up when I was a student. It’s a calming exercise.”


Zoe frowned. “You do not feel calm?”

“I do. It’s become something of a habit now, even when I’m thinking. It allows me to go down into a more Zen state. I used to get panic attacks when I was younger. Have you ever experienced a panic attack, Zoe?”

Zoe thought back, trying to figure out what would qualify. “I do not think so.”

“Whether it’s a full panic attack or something less severe, what we need is for you to have something that can calm you down, fade out the numbers. We want your mind to stop racing, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time.”

Zoe nodded, tracing her fingers over the cracks in the leather arm of her chair. “That would be nice.”

“Let’s start with a meditative exercise. What I think you should start to do is to undertake meditation practice every night, perhaps just before you go to bed. This is going to be an ongoing aid which will improve your ability to control your mind over time. It’s not an instant fix, but if you stick with it, you will see results. With me so far?”

Zoe nodded mutely.

“Good. Now, listen to my instructions. I want you to give it a try right now, and then you’ll be able to practice it on your own tonight. Start by closing your eyes and counting your breaths. Try to shut everything else out of your mind.”

Zoe closed her eyes obediently and started to breathe deeply. One, she thought to herself. Two.

“All right. As soon as you get up to ten, you just start again from one. Don’t let yourself count any further. You just want to keep counting those breaths, until you start to feel relaxed.”

Zoe tried, attempting to force other thoughts out of her mind. It was hard. Her brain wanted to tell her that there was an itch on her right leg, or that she could faintly smell Dr. Monk’s coffee, or to remind her how strange it was to be sitting in someone’s office with her eyes closed. Then it wanted to tell her that she was doing the exercise wrong and allowing herself to be distracted.

Was she breathing at the right pace, anyway? How quickly was one supposed to breathe? Was she doing it right? What if she had been breathing wrong for this whole time? For her whole life? How would she know?

Despite her doubts, she kept at it in the silence, and eventually started to feel herself relaxing.

“You’re doing great,” Dr. Monk said, her voice quieter and lower now. “Now I want you to picture a sky. You’re sitting, looking up at that sky. Beautiful blue, just one little cloud floating by above, nothing else on the horizon. It stretches out over a calm blue sea. Can you see it?”

Zoe wasn’t the best at imagining things, but she remembered an image she had recently seen, an advertisement for a travel company. A family happily playing in the sand, an impossibly blue paradise behind them. She put herself there, focusing on that. She gave a small nod to let Dr. Monk know she was ready to continue.

“Good. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face and your shoulders. It’s a beautiful day. Just a light breeze, exactly the kind of weather you would ask for. You’re sitting in a small inflatable boat, just off the shore. Feel it rocking gently in the motion of the sea. It’s so peaceful and calm. Isn’t the sun wonderful?”

Zoe would normally have laughed at something like this, but she did as she was told, and she could almost swear that she could feel it. Real sun, beating down on her brow. Not too oppressive: the kind of sun that made you think you were getting a tan, not skin cancer.

Skin cancer. Shouldn’t have thought about skin cancer. Focus, Zoe. Rocking in the current.

“Look over to the side. You’ll see the island behind you. The beach where you just came from, and behind it the rest of this paradise. What do you see?”

Zoe knew exactly what she saw when she looked over there: another image from a travel advertisement. A place she had wanted to go. Except it had been advertised as a honeymoon destination, and she had been single at the time, and it had only made her feel more alone.

“Golden sand,” she said, the sound of her own voice strangely distant and unfamiliar. “Then lush undergrowth. Behind it, tropical trees reach up to the sky, ten feet and more. The sun is coming down at a harsh angle, shadows only half a foot long. I can’t see beyond them. There’s a tree leaning right out at a forty-five-degree angle over the water, with a seven-foot hammock tied beneath it. It’s empty.”

“Try to focus more on the scene than the numbers. Now, listen. Can you hear the waves gently washing onto the sand? Can you hear bird calls?”

Zoe breathed deeply, letting this new layer of sensation wash over her. “Yes,” she said. “Parrots. I think. The waves come at intervals of three seconds. Bird calls every five.”

“Feel the warm sun on your face. You can close your eyes, stop counting. You’re safe there.”

Zoe breathed, still watching the island in her mind. Her eyes kept straying to the hammock. Who was it for? For herself, or would someone join her one day? John? Did she want him there, on this personal island of hers? It was sized for a man. She was only five foot six herself. The hammock hung two feet above the water.

“That’s great, Zoe. Now, I want you to focus on your breathing again. Count down from ten, just like we did before but in reverse. As you do, I want you to slowly come back from your island. Let it fade out, and let yourself wake up, a little at a time. Gently, now. That’s it.”

Zoe opened her eyes, a little embarrassed to find how much mellower she felt—and now aware of how strange it seemed, to have been away on a little island in her head while her therapist watched her sit straight-backed in an armchair.

“You did really well.” Dr. Monk smiled. “How do you feel now?”

Zoe nodded. “Calmer.” Still, she felt doubt. The numbers had been there. They had followed her, even into that space. What if she could never get rid of them?

“That’s a great start. You’ll find it more peaceful the more you do the exercise. And that’s a great thing, because it can be a calm place that you return to whenever you feel stressed out or overwhelmed.” Dr. Monk dashed out a few notes in her book, her pen making quick and spidery lines that Zoe could not guess at.

“What if I need to shut the numbers out fast? Like, in an emergency situation?” Zoe asked. “Or if I can’t tell the other person why I need to calm down?”

Dr. Monk nodded. “Try just counting your breaths as you did to enter the meditation. We’ll need to test this out in a real scenario, but it’s my belief that counting one thing—your breath—may allow you to stop seeing the numbers elsewhere. It’s a distraction tactic—keeping the numbers side of your brain occupied while you focus on something else.”

Zoe nodded, trying to cement that into her head. “Okay.”

“Now, Zoe, about not wanting to explain to people why you need to shut out the numbers—or the fact that you can see them. Why is it that you’re still determined to hide this gift?” Dr. Monk asked, tilting her head in a way that Zoe had come to recognize as meaning a change of tack.

She struggled to answer that one. Well, no, she didn’t: she knew the reason. There was a fear that had gripped her since she was a young girl, reinforced by screams of devil child and enforced praying sessions that kept her on her knees all night, wishing for the numbers to go away. It was just hard to say that out loud.

“I do not want people to know,” she said, picking a piece of imaginary lint from the knee of her trousers.

“But why is that, Zoe?” Dr. Monk pressed. “You have a wonderful ability. Why don’t you want to share it with others?”

Zoe struggled. “I… do not wish them to think of me differently.”

“You’re afraid that your peers will perceive you differently from how they do now?”

“Yes. Maybe…” Zoe hesitated, shrugging her shoulders. “Maybe they might try to—to do something with it. To exploit it in some way. I do not wish to be a puppet for someone else to use. Or the victim of tricks and pranks. Or a performance piece for people to test.”

Dr. Monk nodded. “That’s understandable. Are you certain that’s all you are afraid of?”

Zoe knew the answer. She even whispered it in her head. I am afraid that they will all know—that they will see I am not normal. I am not one of them. I am a freak of nature. I am afraid they will hate me for it. But, “Yes, I am sure,” she said, out loud.

Dr. Monk studied her for a moment, and Zoe was sure that the game was up. Dr. Monk was a therapist—of course, she could tell when someone was lying to her. She would press the point, get Zoe to admit the secret fear she had buried deep inside of herself for so very long.

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