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Excerpt

Excerpt

Dark Pursuit

"Aaghh!" Novelist Darell Brooke smacked his keyboard and shoved away from the desk. All concentration drained from his mind like water from a leaky pan.

His characters froze.

He lowered his head, raking gnarled fingers into the front of his scalp. For a time there he'd almost had it --- that ancient joy of thoughts flowing and fingers typing. In the last two hours he'd managed to write three or four paragraphs. Now --- nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

King of Suspense. He laughed, a bitter sound that singed his throat. Ninety-nine novels written in forty-three years. Well over a hundred million copies sold. Twenty-one major motion pictures made from his books. Countless magazine articles about his career, fan letters, invitations to celebrity parties. Now look at him at age seventy-seven. Two years after the auto accident and still only half mobile. And wielding a mere fraction of the brain power he used to have.

What good is an author who can't hold a plot in his head?

As for his once-diehard fans, they were now happily reading King or Koontz or that upstart Patterson.

Betrayers, all. He made a gagging sound in his throat.

Darell stared at the monitor, reading over his strikeouts, struggling once more to settle into the story. He pictured the psychiatrist, his killer...

No use.

Face it, old man. You'll never write that hundredth book. You've been put out to pasture for good.

He wrenched his eyes from the screen and reached for his shiny black cane. With effort, he pushed himself out of his leather chair to unsteady feet. The broken bones in his left leg and ankle had long since healed, but the ligament damage had not. Despite painful physical therapy his foot had not regained its full flexibility. Amazing --- the constant flexing of a foot to maintain equilibrium. He hadn't realized the importance of those muscles and tendons until his were torn apart.

Darell shuffled across the hardwood floor of his thirty-foot-long office, repelled by his writing desk and computer. Every day they wooed, then shunned him. At the tall, mullioned window near the far corner he stopped and spread his feet wide. Hunched over, both hands on his cane, he brooded over the green rolling hills of his estate, the untamed and capricious Pacific Ocean in the distance.

He used to go to the beach to write a couple times a week, tapping his laptop keys as the surf pounded in rhythm to his pulse. Now he never left the house except for doctor's appointments.

Darell Brooke had no use for a world that no longer had use for him. His mouth puckered with disdain.

Characters' faces in shadow, snippets of scenes filtered through his mind. Fredda Lee. Now there was a delectable killer. Or Alfred Stone with his black hair and eyebrows, an intimidating figure much as Darell had appeared in his younger days. Black Tie Affair, that was Alfred's book.

No. Not that one.

Midnight Madness?

Darell shook his head. He used to know. Before the accident, he remembered every story he'd written, every character.

"You knocked your skull pretty badly," the doctor had said as Darell watched the hospital room spiral from his bed. "The dizziness will pass, but you might find it hard to concentrate..."

Now here Darell stood, a shell of his former self. As the undisputed King of Suspense he'd reveled in playing the part. No longer was there a part to play. His once stern, confident countenance --- now blank-faced. His black hair turned an unruly shock of white. The wild gray brows jutting over his deep-set, dark eyes no longer intimidating, merely strawlike. Oh, how he used to love to use those eyebrows! The muscular arms --- even into his early seventies --- sagging. Straight back now bent.

"Pshhh." His lips curled.

Slowly, with defiance, Darell raised his chin.

He focused through the glass once more. At least the gnarled trees on his property still looked formidable. And his mansion looked just as severe from afar, with its black shutters and multiple wings and gables. From the outside looking in, people would never guess...

Darell glared at the phone near his computer. On impulse he clomped over to it and picked up the receiver. His gnarled forefinger hovered over the keys.

What was the number? The one he'd dialed countless times, year after year.

He lowered himself to the edge of his chair and flipped through his Rolodex. There.

Malcolm Featherling, agent to the country's top writers, answered his private line on the third ring. Clipped tone, terse greeting. Malcolm was always pushed for time.

"Hello, Malcolm. Just checking in to give you an update." Darell pushed the old confidence into his voice. After all, his agent worked for him.

"Well, Darell, nice to hear from you. It has been three days." Darell blinked. He'd called three days ago? Surely it was at least a month. Maybe two.

He cleared his throat. It sounded phlegmy, like an old man's. He hated that. "I wrote some today. Almost a page. And another yesterday. You know what they say --- write a page a day and you've got a novel in a year."

He used to write at least two a year. All of them brilliant.

"That's good, Darell, good..."

"Maybe I can get that contract back. Just think, Malcolm, fifteen percent of ten million is a lot of dough. I'll make you rich. Again."

"You do that, man, you do that. Keep up the good work."

He could hear the disbelief in Malcolm's response. The agent was patronizing him. Darell's publisher had waited eight months after the accident, strung along on the promise that he would be able to write his one hundredth bestseller --- the assumed milestone that had landed him on the cover of Time magazine. But a worldwide publishing conglomerate couldn't wait forever, even for Darell Brooke. Not with half the contract --- five million dollars --- already paid up front, and doctors advising he may never write again. The deal was canceled. Darell had been forced to give the money back. Malcolm had to cough up his fifteen percent.

I' ll show you, Malcolm. Maybe I' ll even get a new agent.

"All right. Well, got to get back to my writing. See you, Malcolm." Darell clicked off the line and stared at the phone in his hand.

Just three days ago he'd called?

With a loud sigh he hung up the receiver. He shifted his legs and focused on the half-empty page on his screen. An emptiness he used to love to fill. Now it mocked him. His killer was still on his feet, frozen. The psychiatrist watched from his chair.

What were they supposed to do next? Where had he been headed with this story?

What was the story?

Oh, to regain half the concentration he'd once had. A fourth. A tenth. The thought of spending day after day in this mansion-turnedprison, in this office, unproductive and used up, filled him with an emptiness as deep as staring into the face of eternal hell...

Straightening, Darell dredged up his will.

He placed his fingers on the keyboard, straining to turn the gears of his mind. One more paragraph, just one. He'd give anything to finish this book. To gain back his reputation, his life. Anything.

The gears refused to move.

Excerpted from DARK PURSUIT © Copyright 2010 by Brandilyn Collins. Reprinted with permission by Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Dark Pursuit
by by Brandilyn Collins