EXCERPT: Strangers by Ursula Archer & Arno Strobel

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Ursula Archer & Arno Strobel deliver an incredible suspenseful thriller in Strangers! Joanna is given a real shock when she finds a man in her home — is he a burglar, a thief or much worse? Strangers takes readers on a mind-bending ride that challenges our characters’ perceptions of reality. 
Read an excerpt now! 
I hold my breath. Concentrate and listen hard. Now there’s nothing but silence. Was I wrong, did I just imagine the noises? My mind considers this to be entirely possible, but my wildly hammering heart says otherwise. And if there’s one thing I can’t bear, its uncertainty.
There’s a paperweight on the dresser in the hall. Ela gave it to me a few weeks ago. A cube made of blue glass, at least four pounds in weight. I pick it up in one hand, ignoring the junk mail which sails down to the floor, and slowly, slowly, open the living room door.
Nothing. Nobody. At least not in here. The living room is untouched; the terrace door is completely intact; everything is just as I left it.
As far as the kitchen is concerned, though, I’m not sure yet. I can’t get a glimpse of it from where I’m standing, and the light’s off.
The paperweight almost slips out of my sweaty hand. I grip it tighter and take a step into the living room. Silently. Another step. Until I’m standing in the middle of the room.
Right when I’m starting to laugh at myself for being so foolish, a shadow steps out of the darkness of the kitchen.
The scream which tries to escape from me dies out halfway, as if there were suddenly no breath left in my body. Every part of my body freezes.
Run away is the only thought which makes it to my consciousness, but I’m not capable of putting it into action. My legs refuse to respond.
A man is standing there beneath the light of the ceiling lamp: he is dark haired, broad shouldered. He says something, his mouth moves, but I can’t make out a word of it; every sound seems to be coming from a great distance, only the hammering of my heartbeat is worryingly close and loud. Is this shock?
The man says something again, but it’s as though I’ve suddenly forgotten all my German. For a moment, the room spins around me. Don’t pass out now, I tell myself.
He cocks his head to the side, hesitates. Then he comes toward me. A new thought pounds into my head: You’re so stupid, why didn’t you stay upstairs?
Only when he’s close enough for me to smell a hint of his aftershave does the paralyzing shock finally lift. I edge backward, but toward the wall instead of the door. By the time I realize it’s too late, he’s almost right next to me.
“Get out!” I shout, in the hope of at least startling him. To my surprise, it works. He stops in his tracks.
“Get out, or I’ll call the police!” If I shout a little louder, maybe the neighbors will hear me too.
A burglar would run away now, but the stranger doesn’t do that, and something inside me has already figured out that the man hasn’t broken in here to rob me. No thief wears a suit when he’s breaking into a house. But that means there’s another reason, that the stranger has a different intention ... and this thought awakens a completely new kind of fear within me. I take another step back; the floor lamp is right behind me now; I feel it tipping over, almost lose my balance.
“Please,” I whisper. “Please don’t hurt me.”
He is five steps away at most. He doesn’t shift his gaze from me, not for a second.
“For heaven’s sake,” he says. “What’s wrong?”
Another step toward me. I duck down a little, as if it could help, as if I could hide inside myself.
“I don’t have much money in the house, but I’ll give you everything I’ve got, OK? Take whatever you want. But please ... don’t hurt me.”
“Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?” He lifts his hands, baring his palms. They’re empty. “Are you feeling sick? Should I call a doctor?”
He’s stopped advancing toward me. That’s all that matters. I slowly straighten up again. The paperweight. Maybe this would be a good moment to throw it.
“Just go, please. I promise I won’t call the police.”
He blinks, takes a few deep breaths in and out. “What’s going on? Why are you talking to me like this?”
If those were signs of uncertainty, then I have a chance. I’ll engage him in conversation. Yes. And grab the first opportunity that presents itself to flee.
“Because ... I’m scared, OK?”
“Of me?”
“Yes. You’ve given me a real shock.”
He spread out his arms, coming toward me again. “Joanna ...”
My name. I flinch again. He knows my name; maybe he’s a stalker ... or maybe he just saw the address details on the envelopes that were lying in the hallway.
I take a closer look at him. Blue eyes beneath thick brows. Prominent features, which I would remember if I’d met him before. He doesn’t look aggressive, nor dangerous, but the sight of him still fills me with a horror I couldn’t explain even to myself.
Now I have the wall behind me. There’s no way out; I’m trapped. My pulse is racing; I lift the paperweight. “Go. Right now.”
His gaze flits back and forth between my face and the glass cube. Then it slips a little lower, making me realize my robe is gaping open more than I would have liked.
“Joanna, I don’t know what you’re doing, but please, stop it.”
“You stop it!” I meant my words to sound authoritative, but in actual fact they sound pathetic. “Stop acting like we know each other and just go, please.”
Something about my fear must be enticing to him; he comes yet another step closer. I edge along the wall to the left, toward the door.
“Will you give it a rest already? Of course we know each other.” His tone is one of impatience, not anger, but that could easily change. Another seven feet to the door. I can make it; I have to make it.
“You’re wrong. Really.” With every sentence I say, I’m winning myself time. “Where are we supposed to know each other from?”
He slowly shakes his head. “Either you’re playing some kind of twisted game with me, or maybe I should get you to a hospital.” He runs his hand through his hair. “We’re engaged, Jo. We live together.”
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