Pen Pal, an all-new dark and gripping story from international bestselling author J.T. Geissinger is available now!
The first letter arrived the day my husband was buried. It was postmarked from the state penitentiary, and contained a single sentence:
I’ll wait forever if I have to.
It was signed by Dante, a man I didn’t know.
Out of simple curiosity, I wrote back to ask him what exactly he was waiting for. His reply?
I told the mystery man he had the wrong girl. He said he didn’t. I said we’d never met, but he said I was wrong.
We went back and forth, exchanging letters every week that grew increasingly more intimate. Then one day, the letters stopped.
When I found out why, it was already too late.
Dante was at my doorstep.
And nothing on earth could have prepared me for what happened next.
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It’s raining as my husband’s casket is lowered into the hole in the ground. Raining hard, as if the sky itself is about to rip in half like my heart has.
I stand motionless under an umbrella with the other mourners, listening to the priest drone on about resurrection and glory, blessings and suffering, redemption and the holy love of God. So many words, and all so meaningless.
Everything is meaningless. There’s a Michael-shaped hole in my chest, and nothing matters anymore.
That must be why I feel so numb. I’m empty. Grief has blown me apart, scattering my bones into a desert wasteland where they’ll bake in silence under a merciless sun for a thousand years.
A woman behind me quietly weeps into her handkerchief. Sharon? Karen? A colleague of Michael’s who I met at a long-ago faculty party. One of those awful holiday work parties in a school auditorium where they serve cheap wine in plastic cups and people stand around making awkward small talk until they’re drunk enough to say what they really think about each other.
Sharon or Karen behind me told Michael he was a prick at that party. I can’t remember why, but that’s probably why she’s crying now.
When someone dies, you start counting all the ways you failed them.
The priest makes the sign of the cross over his chest. He closes his Bible and steps back. I walk slowly forward, bend down to grasp a handful of soil from the pile to one side, then toss it onto the closed casket.
The wet clump of dirt makes an ugly hollow sound when it lands on the gray lid of the coffin, an uncaring splat of finality. Then it slides off, leaving a smear of brown behind like a shit stain.
Abruptly, I’m shaking with anger. I taste ashes and bitterness in my mouth.
What a stupid ritual this is. Why do we even bother? It’s not like the dead can see us mourning them. They’re gone.
A sudden gust of cold wind rattles the leaves in the trees. I turn and walk away through the rain, not looking back when someone softly sobs my name.
I need to be alone with my grief. I’m not one of those people who likes to commiserate over a tragedy. Especially when the tragedy is my own.
When I open the front door of the house, it takes a moment for me to register that I’m home. I have no recollection of the drive from the gravesite to here, though the blank spot in time doesn’t surprise me. Since the accident, I’ve been in a fog. It’s as if my brain is blanketed in thick clouds.
I kick off my shoes and leave them under the console table in the foyer. Tossing my wool coat onto the back of a kitchen chair, I head to the fridge. I open the door and stand looking inside as rain drums against the windowpanes and I try to convince myself I’m hungry.
I’m not. I know I should eat to keep my strength up, but I have no appetite for anything. I let the door swing shut and press my fingers against my throbbing temples.
When I turn around, I notice the envelope on the table next to the fruit bowl. It sits by itself, a white rectangle with neat handwriting and a stamp that reads “LOVE” in red letters.
I know for a fact it wasn’t there when I left.
My first thought is that Fiona must’ve brought in the mail. Then I remember she cleans the house on Mondays. Today’s Sunday.
So how did it get there?
As I cross to the table and pick up the letter, a rumble of thunder rattles the windows. A sudden gust of wind whistles through the trees outside. The eerie feeling intensifies when I read the return address.
Washington State Penitentiary.
Frowning, I tear open the edge of the envelope and pull out the single sheet of white unlined paper inside. I unfold it and read aloud.
“I’ll wait forever if I have to.”
That’s it. There’s nothing else, except a signature scratched below the words.
I flip the page over, but it’s blank on the other side.
For a fleeting moment, I think the letter must be intended for Michael. That idea gets tossed aside when I realize it’s addressed to me. That’s my name right there on the front of the envelope, printed in neat block letters with blue pen. This Dante person, whoever he is, meant for me to receive this.
And what is he waiting for?
Unsettled, I fold the letter into thirds, stuff it back into the envelope, and drop it on the table. Then I make sure all the doors and windows are locked. I draw the drapes and blinds against the wet gray afternoon, pour myself a glass of wine, then sit at the kitchen table, staring at the envelope with a strange feeling of foreboding.
A feeling that something’s coming.
And that whatever it is, it isn’t good.
About J.T. Geissinger
J.T. Geissinger is a #1 internationally bestselling author of twenty-seven novels. Ranging from funny, feisty rom coms to intense, edgy suspense, her books have sold over five million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages.
She is a three-time nominee in both contemporary and paranormal romance for the RITA® Award, the highest distinction in romance fiction from the Romance Writers of America®. She is also a recipient of the Prism Award for Best First Book and the Golden Quill Award for Best Paranormal/Urban Fantasy.
She’s a Southern California native currently living in Nevada with her husband and rescue kitty, Zoe.
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