Sunday Snippet 05.31.15 - Ashley Ridge

Today's excerpt comes from Ashley Ridge, the third book in my best-selling paranormal romantic suspense Haunted Hearts series.

About the book:

Trapped in an affair with a blackmailer...

After Ashley Rivers is involved in a hit and run accident, she picks up the pieces of her life and tries to move on, but the tragedy ruins her friendship with the two people most important to her. To fill the void, she falls into a psychologically abusive relationship with a sociopath.

Estranged from the man she has always loved...

Giving up her place in the North Arkansas Paranormal Society isn’t easy for Ashley. She longs to go back to the old ghost hunting days with her partners, Josh and Gray, but the hurt Josh inflicted on her is hard to forget. Distancing herself from him is even harder.

Entangled in a dark web of murder and revenge...

When a mysterious death on Ashley Ridge stirs up old haunting rumors, Lead Crime Scene Investigator with the Hill County Sheriff’s Office, Josh McCord, pulls Ashley into the investigation. Investigating the haunting draws Josh and Ashley together, but Josh fears Ashley will crush his heart again.

Can two wounded hearts repair the damage done by the past and find love on Ashley Ridge?

The digital version of Ashley Ridge is always priced at $2.99. Here's the excerpt:

The desire to get back up the tunnel to Terrance’s cabin and get far, far away from the prison she’d found inside the mountain twanged on every one of Ashley’s nerves until her whole system was practically pinging with urgency. A panic attack was only one more heartbeat away, one more breath, one more gulp of heavy air. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. The oppressive claustrophobia of being under tons of earth tore at her mind.

She finally made it all the way across the underground room and reached the entrance to the tunnel. Her heart pounded harder as she stared into darkness. Out of the pitch black, a shadow moved toward her. The shadow took shape, an amorphous blob of dark that was blacker than the darkness surrounding it. The figure shot past her, brushing her as it passed. A scream should have erupted but it stuck in her throat.

Deep in her soul, a warning echoed, almost as if someone had whispered to her heart instead of in her ear. Run, little girl.
She remained immobile, remembering the words that had terrified her long ago. Words that often woke her in the night, sweating and shaking from a nightmare. How had her worst fears followed her there?

She flicked her flashlight on and began a panicked rush through the tunnel. Coming down, she hadn’t realized what a steep downhill slope the tunnel had. Her calf muscles ached from the slant as she trudged higher and higher up the path. She skidded to a halt when a loud bang echoed the passage from above her. Another black form rushed passed her. Once. Twice. Three times it bumped her. You’d better run now.

She gasped and released her grip on the flashlight. It hit the ground with a hard clunk and switched off. She bent and reached for it, but it wasn’t at her feet. Clink clink clink echoed through the tunnel as the flashlight rolled further and further away down the path she had just traveled. She backtracked a few feet and dropped to the dirt, patting the floor with her hands, desperately searching for the light.

In the dark, her fingers found debris that felt like bones and skin and hair. Surely, that was just her imagination working her into a frenzy. If anything like that had been in the passage when she first traversed it, she would have noticed.

Ashley used the slimy walls to push up into a standing position. She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Sucked in several heavy breaths of air. Shook out her arms and legs to relieve some pent up nervous energy. She reached out and pressed her palm against goo on the rock surface. Her overactive brain imagined buckets of blood cascading down the tunnel walls.

Her mind kept conjuring intensely sick and horrid scenes from the last five episodes of Criminal Minds she’d watched. Why? She hadn’t really seen anything in the underground room so terrible that it should freak her out. No blood. No guts. No chain saws or meat cleavers. Just a makeshift bed and a fenced in area with a gate and a lock. Nothing really to incite this kind of terror. Surely, there was an explanation for what she’d found. Some other reason besides the possibility that Terrance was a psychopathic pervert who kidnapped women and held them captive for days or months, feeding them little bits of dried bread and an ounce or two of tepid water. And the feeling that something was harassing her by bumping into her? Just her imagination.

She forced herself to stop her hysterical thinking and logically consider her situation. There was a way out. It was above her. She just had to keep from going crazy before she could get to the exit. With some intense effort, she slowed her breathing and concentrated on doing what she needed to do. With the toe of her shoe, she searched the floor for the wayward flashlight. Finally, after several minutes of frustration, she gave up. No telling how far the stupid thing had rolled. She had no choice but to ascend to the surface in the dark. Rather than stare blindly ahead of her, she closed her eyes, braced on the wall beside her, and took a few tentative steps forward. The approach seemed to work, so she kept moving.

When Ashley had gone a few feet, she became more confident in her ability to travel the tunnel, find the stairs, and get away. With a renewed burst of adrenaline, she moved faster up the tunnel and banged her head on a protruding rock. Pain stabbed through her already aching head. She pressed her hand to forehead. Nothing liquid, so probably no bleeding, but she was going to have a nice bruise. Maybe even a bump.

With even more determination, she began again and kept going until she tripped and fell onto the bottom tread of the stairs. The pain in her knees hurt like crap, but she smiled to herself. She was doing it. She was rescuing herself. She didn’t need Gray or Josh or anyone else to come get her.

It took awhile, climbing steadily but very carefully upward, before she made it to a flat area that she believed was the top of the stairs. She relaxed a bit and flexed her cramped fingers. How long had she been clenching her fists? She’d bet there were little half moon grooves in the palm of her hand from where her fingernails had dug into her flesh.

Ashley laughed when she first glimpsed a small sliver of light glowing beneath the door to freedom. Relief bubbled up inside her. She pressed her hands against the wood and shoved, but the door met resistance. She pushed harder. The door only budged a few centimeters, if that much. She banged on the wood. Pressing her hands on either side of the narrow landing to balance and keep from falling backward down the stairs, she managed to slide into a squat so that she could study the slit of light at the bottom of the door. Tightly wedged underneath was the tip end of the crowbar.

She fell back on her butt and tilted toward the stairs, caught herself before she tumbled, and propped her hands on the sludgy floor behind her. Panic hit her full force again. Her knees began to shake. Sweat popped out on her forehead. A sharp pain cramped her side.

Her mind swirled at the implications of the tool wedged under the door. Had the crowbar fallen and wedged beneath the door…or had someone stuck it there to trap her underground?

Ashley Ridge is the third book in my Haunted Hearts series.

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You might also enjoy my free short story, Ghost In the Garden, available here:

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