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A hand clamped over her mouth, and before she could react, an arm snaked around her waist and pulled her against his loathsome body.

Her muffled scream reached no farther than the archway into the hall.

Surprise, little girl,” he breathed into her ear, and chuckled. “You thought you could sneak in here, but I heard you coming. What they’re doing to me downstairs, they don’t know it, but they’ve made me where I can hear everything now.”

Meg struggled desperately, tried to bite the clammy hand that pressed across her mouth, tried to wrest her body free from the iron bond of the arm around her waist.

You can’t get away from me,” he whispered. “You might as well quit trying.”

The fetid emanation of his breath reached her nose, and she gagged. Her thudding heart pounded in her ears, and she could hear little else. Except his terrifying whispers.

You know what happened to the last little girl who tried to get away from me? Same as the others. Same as what’s gonna happen to you. One of these days, when they’re not watching close enough, I’ll take you with me. And when I’m through with you, you’ll be in the ground with the others.”

He shifted her around to face him, put his mouth on hers, and Meg retched.

Suddenly, he released her, looked toward the archway, took two quick silent steps and sat on the far end of the sofa.

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