This is book two of the Ash Suspense Thrillers with a Dash of Romance series.
Ashley Winters, twenty-two, needs time alone to regroup after surviving her brutal rape and the coma that nearly left her defenseless against her would-be killer. Over winter break from the University of California Irvine, where she is working on her master’s degree, she decides on impulse to rent a dilapidated beach house in Clearwater, near her father’s Florida home with his new wife, Heather. Michael, her boyfriend and a brilliant software developer, will miss her but is supportive and understanding. He doesn’t know that she is clueless about her future plans – she may end up staying in Florida and starting over. Her overbearing mother flies out to Florida and stays just long enough to assist with her move.
Ashley begins to question her decision as soon as she enters her rental. The odor is unbearable and the landlady resists taking responsibility for it. Mrs. Gore avoids answering questions about the home and is difficult to deal with, but she finally concedes and agrees to replace the carpeting.
At the same time, Ashley acquires a young stalker. Paul, roughly seventeen and in high school, hates girls and hates his mother. He asks Ashley out in spite of their age gap, and doesn’t seem satisfied with ‘no.’ Ashley’s mother even spots him watching the home from across the street.
When the carpet is replaced, the installer draws Ashley’s attention to two matters. First, an unusual stain underneath the old carpeting. And second, a blocked off stairwell leading to a hidden upstairs room. When Mrs. Gore plays dumb and denies its existence, Ashley’s suspicion that something bad had happened in that home grows.
Four issues immediately occupy Ashley’s thoughts as she tries to settle in and get away from her recent trauma. First, the suspected blood in the carpet begs the question – did someone die in the home? Second, why was the upstairs room closed off and hidden? And why had Mrs. Gore denied its existence? Third, how much trouble would her apparent stalker cause? And lastly, is it possible that the awful odor wasn’t the only thing causing her nausea? Could she be pregnant? The suspicion that her rape had resulted in pregnancy added to Ashley’s despair. She and Michael hadn’t gone so far as to make it possible that the baby was his. It was easier to ignore the problem, however, and hope it went away rather than face the difficult possibility.
As Ashley deals with these new concerns, she meets several people. Heather, her father’s new bride, wears tight dresses that flaunts her cleavage, but a nurturing quality prevents her from outright hating Heather. Tracy, a newly divorced mother, hires Ashley to help with her thirteen year old son. Tracy is terrified to leave his side after her older son’s disappearance three weeks earlier. Timmy is a sweet boy that misses his older brother, Brian. His father, Ed, is a Sheriff officer but has been asked to step back from his job due to getting emotionally involved in the case. And Marcia, Paul’s meek mother, turns out to be a distant relative of Mrs. Gore.
When a shooting occurs, leaving Ashley and Timmy in the crosshairs, Timmy suggests it is overkill – that there had only been one intended target in spite of all the melee. Ashley finds herself enmeshed in a crime once again, and having a genius boyfriend that develops virtual reality applications comes in handy. It implies a happy ending in the romance department.
Ashley’s second thriller is a suspenseful quick read. Unlike the first book, this one is serious in tone. She once again shows incredible courage and fortitude in the face of danger. The story is well-written. It is plot-driven. I rate this book 4.5 stars.