Loud Mouth - Avery Flynn

Chapter One

Shelby Blanton was never going to sleep again.

She should have known better than to watch a double feature about possessed houses while staying alone in a rented cabin out in the middle of snowdrift-covered nowhere.

Yeah, that had definitely been mistake number one.

The other big, bad move on her part had been that after-dinner espresso. She was a green tea drinker, but the cabin came with an espresso maker and it had totally seemed fancy and fun at the time but oh my God… She could practically hear her heart beating now and her eyes were all, Blinking? It’s for the weak!

So now here she was, starfished on a king-size bed, practically vibrating from caffeine and wondering if every creak and groan of the cabin in the dark was actually a malevolent force waiting for her to fall asleep so it could steal her soul. The tick, tick had to be the huge grandfather clock—complete with antlers—in the living room. The intermittent hum was the heat kicking on and off. The shuffle of steps had to be—

Shelby jackknifed into a sitting position, one corner of the thick down comforter clutched to her chest, and told herself it wasn’t an ax murderer.

Steps? It was her imagination. Or the wind. Or the pipes. Or—

Holy fuckballs, there it is again.

The noise was coming from downstairs. All of a sudden, the back-to-nature thrill of being in a cell phone dead zone without a landline became a cold blanket of dread that covered her from her chin to the little hairs on her toes. Focus glued to the bedroom door that was open—of course—she reached over to her purse on the nightstand and fished around in it until her fingers brushed by the cool metal of her flashlight stun gun. It wasn’t a rock salt safety circle and a blowtorch, but it would at least give her a running start as long as the intruder was human and not a one-eyed ghoul with a grudge.

Okay, she knew the whole haunted thing was just in her head, but tell that to the lizard part of her brain that was doing the ultimate freak-out right now. That was it. She was never watching another scary movie again. Ever.

Slipping out of the bed, stun gun in her tight grip, she held her breath, straining to hear something over the sound of blood rushing in her ears as she tiptoed to the door. Taking up a spot just to the left of the open door, she flattened her back against the wall.

One of the stairs creaked and then another as someone who sounded very un-ghostlike let out a long sigh that under other circumstances would have sounded tired as hell, but considering it was made by a house-burglar-serial-killer, she wasn’t about to give him any sympathy.

A nervous giggle started working its way up from her belly. Gritting her teeth, Shelby tightened her abs, hoping to stave off the very inopportune timing of her most hated reflex.

Fuck.

This was not the time for making noise—especially not the high-pitched sound that had resulted in her having the nickname The Squeaker growing up. Okay, it hadn’t just been the giggle. She’d never gotten rid of her little-girl voice—no matter how many voice lessons she’d had. Now it was that sound that had telemarketers asking if her mommy was home when she answered the phone that was going to get her straight-up murdered.

Focus, Shelby. Be the badass your tats promise you are.

She had several, but her biggest was a detailed leaf tattoo the length of her forearm. It wasn’t exactly skull-and-crossbones-with-a-bloody-dagger tough, but getting it had hurt like a bitch and she’d survived. That meant she could live through this.

The steps got closer, and she pictured a Goliath of a guy, maybe with a little drool stuck to the corner of his mouth and wild black eyes, walking toward the open bedroom door. She adjusted her sweat-slick grip on the flashlight stun gun—thank you, nerves, for adding that to the mix. Letting out a deep breath, she put her thumb on the switch that would turn on the super-bright light and her finger on the button that would turn on the arc of electricity.

She’d gotten the device after the threats sent in to her hockey blog The Biscuit got more than the usual you’re-a-real-bitch-and-I-hope-you-get-raped variety of being female on the internet. According to the self-defense course she’d taken, the light would momentarily startle her attacker so she could get in close enough to jab the