Authors: Ace Collins
Tags: #Fiction, #Retail, #Suspense
Other books by Ace Collins from Abingdon Press
The Christmas Star
The Cutting Edge
(available October 2013)
Darkness Before Dawn
Copyright © 2013 by Ace Collins
Published by Abingdon Press, P.O. Box 801, Nashville, TN 37202
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form,
stored in any retrieval system, posted on any website,
or transmitted in any form or by any means—digital,
electronic, scanning, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without
written permission from the publisher, except for brief
quotations in printed reviews and articles.
The persons and events portrayed in this work of fiction are the
creations of the author, and any resemblance to persons
living or dead is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been requested.
Scripture quotations are taken from the
, New Living
Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007. Used by
permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights
Printed in the United States of America
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 / 18 17 16 15 14 13
whose life was tragically cut short by a drunk driver
My thanks to Kathy Collins, Elizabeth Kelly, and the team at Abingdon Press, including
Ramona Richards, Susan Cornell, and Teri Wilhelms.
HEN IT FIRST REACHED THE INNER MOST DEPTHS OF HER DREAMS
Richards thought the distant noise came from the alarm clock rousing her for another
day of work at the hospital. As she struggled to rise and shake off her deep slumber,
the ringing sound stopped. As it did, she fell back onto the bed. But a second later,
like a determined mosquito, it came back for a second strike. This time, awake enough
to separate dream from reality, she began to understand her cell phone demanded her
attention. She didn’t want to leave her dreams to answer it, and, if she had known
who was waiting on the other end of the line, she wouldn’t have. But she couldn’t
let phones ring; it wasn’t in her nature. When a phone rang, her curiosity always
won out over everything, including her need for sleep.
Awkwardly rolling out of bed, her feet finding the cool slats of the wooden floor,
she blinked a half dozen times until she could finally focus on her clock. 2:32 a.m.!
Trying to shake the grogginess from her head, she moaned, “What could anyone want
at this time of night?” Even as her heavy eyelids closed out the world, she halfway
fell forward toward the sound.
“Steve,” she mumbled looking over her shoulder to the other side of the bed, “who
could be calling at this time of the night or morning or whatever it is?” Then it
hit her. There could only be one answer. “Steve, I swear, if this is the hospital
calling . . .”
As she glanced over her shoulder, she momentarily froze. The far side of the bed was
empty; the covers hadn’t even been pulled back. What had happened to her husband?
Hilldale’s only a couple of hours away. He should have been home long ago. Ah, nothing
to worry about, probably just got delayed by something unexpected on his job. Not
the first time and wouldn’t be the last time that had happened. Besides, with her
bizarre schedule, she had no room to complain.
Like a boxer struggling to find his balance in the late rounds of a title fight, Meg
unwrapped her lithe, five-foot-two inch frame from the sheet and bedspread and stumbled
out of the bedroom. Eight short steps led into the small apartment’s living room.
Hurrying past the couch, she sprinted to an end table on the far side of the fourteen-by-twelve-foot
“I should keep the charger closer to the bed,” she muttered as she searched for the
lamp’s switch. By the time its harsh light flooded the room, the phone had completed
its sixth ring. On the seventh, the voice mail would make her short trek a complete
waste of time, so she had to hurry. Finally, with a few more of the sleep-induced
cobwebs shaken from her mind, Meg cleared her throat, picked up the iPhone, slid it
on, and tapped accept.
“Hello?” She spit her one-word greeting with a perturbed and questioning tone. She
knew who it had to be. After all, who else would call at this time of the night except
the hospital wanting her to come in early again. And this was not a night she wanted
to give up her sleep for rounds at Springfield Community. She’d done that far too
much the past few months. This week alone she had pulled two double shifts and those
had left her dead on her feet. It was time for them to hire a few more nurses, ones
that could be depended upon, rather than overworking the staff they already had!
Surprisingly it wasn’t her boss, Hospital Administrator John Willis. This was another
voice. One she didn’t know. Before she had time to answer the man’s first simple question,
he grew more specific and demanding. “Is this the home of Megan Richards?”
What in the world did this stranger want at this time of the night and how did he
get her number? She wavered for a second, questioning if it was wise to share any
personal information. She glanced over to her door and made sure it was locked before
hesitantly replying. “Yes, this is Megan Richards. Who are you?”
“Mrs. Richards, this is Officer Roland Johnson with the state police. Is your husband’s
His query froze her in her tracks. Not only couldn’t she answer, she couldn’t even
breathe, much less move. It was as if a summer fog had invaded the living room and
surrounded her in a haze so deep she could barely see. She stole a glance at the wedding
photo hanging on the wall just a few feet away. As it came into focus, a chill raced
down her spine and then a thousand random thoughts all flashed through her head. Each
of those thoughts was crowding another one for space. Her throat grew dry and her
knees weak as her brain tried to push out of the fog. Surprisingly, in a few short
seconds her mind had driven the fog away and she was once more processing information.
And as clarity set in, she sensed the call’s meaning. Something had happened! That’s
why Steven hadn’t come home.
She knew the routine. As a nurse, she had seen it play out a hundred times. There
had to have been an accident. That’s the
only reason the police would call. But, no, that couldn’t be it. She wouldn’t let
herself even consider that. It had to be something much more routine. It just had
It suddenly felt as if an unseen hand had found her throat and was squeezing with
more force each second. Finding the corner of the couch with her free hand, she slowly
crumpled into a sitting position on the arm. Glancing back to the wedding photo, she
transported to the moment Steve asked her to marry him. It was in the park, the moon
had been full and there were more stars than she’d ever seen. She could now smell
the trees and feel the wind. Only the man’s distant voice coming from her phone kept
her from staying in that “safe” place.
“Mrs. Richards . . . are you still there . . . Mrs. Richards?”
She knew that tone all too well. She’d heard doctors use it when sharing a bleak prognosis
and pastors employ it when informing a person their son or daughter had just died.
She had heard it so much she had a name for it—“dark music.” Now that old familiar,
stormy tune had been cued up for her. That man on the phone would soon hit the chord
that shattered her world into a million pieces. He’d probably been practicing the
words that went with the “dark music” for at least ten minutes. He’d likely said them
over and over to make sure they stung as little as possible. What if she hung up the
phone and cut the “dark music” off before the song began? After all, if she didn’t
hear the lyrics, the story they told wouldn’t be real. Would it?
Her voice still muted, her eyes glued on the wedding portrait, she studied the good-looking
groom. It came to her then, the picture was speaking a phrase he’d once said and it
began to bounce off the walls. At first it was just one single voice whispering the
five words, but in a matter of seconds it seemed
as if a thousand different people were screaming that one line in unison.
’Til death do us part! ’Til death do us part! ’Til death do us part! ’Til death do
She wanted to throw the phone against the wall, cover her ears with her hands, and
race back to bed. She didn’t want the song to play out because the “dark music” always
brought parting. No, much more than separation; the “dark music” always brought death!
“Mrs. Richards.” The voice on the phone wouldn’t go away. It kept demanding she rejoin
the conversation. She knew she had to answer that voice and prayed her premonitions
were wrong, but even as her lips began to form words, her heart demanded she remain
silent. Finally, it was her lips that won the tug-of-war over her emotions.
“Yes. I’m Meg Richards.” The words all but caught in her throat, hanging there like
a cough drop that had gone down the wrong way, robbing her of air and stealing whatever
hope she had left.
Why did this happen now? Why in the middle of the night? Why when everything had just
started to go so right? After another deep breath that did nothing to slow her racing
heart or ease her growing fears, she whispered the most painful words that had ever
crossed her lips, “Has something happened to Steve?”
“Mrs. Richards,” the man’s voice was now flat, almost emotionless, as if trying to
be empathetic, but lacking the knowledge as to how to accomplish that task. He forced
out another “Mrs. Richards,” before pausing again. Was he tone deaf or had he not
been trained in how to sing the “dark music’s” tune. Whatever the reason, he couldn’t
seem to impart
the heartfelt emotion that this number called for. If something had happened to Steve,
there needed to be deep emotion in the “dark music,” his life demanded that much.
But when the voice came back, it was flat and emotionless.
“Mrs. Richards.” He was now distant and robotic. No one could do justice to the “dark
music” like that. But that didn’t matter now. She hadn’t got to choose the singer
or the song. “I am sorry to have to inform you that there has been an accident. Your
husband’s car was hit by a vehicle carrying a group of teenagers. I don’t know if
I should provide you with this information, but from what we have been able to gather,
the youngsters had been drinking.”
She waited for the cop to continue, but for some reason he stopped—like he had been
reading a book and lost his place. As the seconds dragged on, Meg held her breath,
hoping for the best but sensing the worst had yet to come. Maybe Steve had just been
injured. She could even take him losing a limb or his sight. All she needed was for
him to be alive. Yet a minute later those hopes were dashed as the other shoe dropped.
“Mrs. Richards,” Johnson continued, “our chaplain is out of town, and I don’t really
know how to do this, but I guess the best way is to be straight with you. There is
no easy way to say . . .”
“Get on with it,” a suddenly angry and frustrated Meg barked. “Just tell me what you
have to say. He’s dead, isn’t he? If that is what it is, then say it!”
She could hear the officer breathing, but other than those deep breaths there was
nothing but silence. Finally, after at least twenty horrible seconds, a time when
she could feel the flames of hell creeping into the room, he continued, his voice
no longer flat but now quivering like a violin string, “Mrs. Richards, your husband
didn’t survive the accident.” He paused for another awkward moment, took another deep
continued. “We believe he died instantly. If it’s any consolation, he probably suffered