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There is no right or wrong, only her.

When I first see Remedy, I know she’s mine. I stalk her for months, learning her desires and secrets, until I know exactly what she craves.


She needs pleasure ripped from her soul like it doesn’t belong to her anymore.


The only way to get my mind off of her is to take another life, and yet I know she’s taking my life, one breath at a time.


But I don’t care.


I’m going to give Remedy exactly what she needs, and I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way.


One day, Remedy will crawl, offering everything to me, even her life.
But my biggest mistake will be offering her my love.

Because if this is love, it will kill us.


Author’s Note: Crawl is a dark romance. It contains disturbing content and irredeemable characters. Reader discretion is advised.

Content Warnings

Triggers: serial killer, graphic violence, stalking, dubious and non consent (subjective), stalking, irredeemable main characters, sexual assault (of the heroine by secondary characters, as a minor), cheating (heroine’s ex cheats on the heroine)

Kinks: blood play, breath play, crawling, degradation, dubious consent, forced orgasms, gun play, impact play, knife play, non consent (subjective), spice on top of corpse, orgasm denial, restraints, sensory deprivation, somnophilia, voyeurism


Chapter 1

First, I see the tawny glow of her upper arm. Her thick bicep twitches, then her fingers pinch at the fabric. The shirt flutters to the ground. There’s barely any room to move, but I shift my eye against the peephole, the inner surface of the plaster scraping my cheek. She crosses the room again and I get a glimpse of the tattoo on her back: two rib cages pressed together, the phalanges clutching each other like they’re afraid they’ll fall apart. But I’ve seen the piece in full: skeletons embracing, teeth against teeth, dark eye sockets turned toward one another. As if the only promise we can rely on is our base instincts. 


These old houses weren’t regulated during construction, and occupants expect things like holes in the plaster. Some of these homeowners don’t even know that they have wall cavities. Itching to see her again, my hands scratch the inner wall, and suddenly, it’s deathly still. I can imagine it already; another complaint about rats sent in a work order. Pesky little things. The foul scent of decaying palm trees fills the air, a dampness heavy on my shoulders, like a mouth breathing down on me. 


Then the artificial moans shriek through the wall. The adult actress squeals, backed by creaking wooden furniture, and I instantly know the video Remedy is watching. It’s the same one every time: a man with bloodshot eyes towering over a woman with a rope around her neck while he takes her from behind. She always comes back to this one. 


It’s only midday and she’s already going at it. My kind of woman. 


I lean back against the outer wall, inching a hand into my pants, but I’m compressed between the two walls, and it’s hard to get a hand on my shaft. There’s a layer of fabric between the hard inner wall and my hand, but my forearm grinds against the plaster. I press my eye against that tiny hole, shifting in each direction to get another peek of her. Remedy Basset. What a name. Medicine. Treatment. A substitute for what’s needed. And my favorite little cure.


Blood fills my bulge, but it’s no use with a hole this small. I can’t see anything. I’m lucky if I catch a flash of her shoulder, and yet, I still prefer this vantage point. An associate back in Missoula had helped me hack her webcam so that I can see everything: every twist of her lips, every scrunched eyebrow, every pant that escapes her purple lips. But when it comes to my free time, before she goes to sleep, I prefer to spend it as close to her as possible. And that means being pressed between her wall cavities. 


Her bare foot props up on the desk, her toenails nude and unpainted, but I can picture the webcam footage now: Remedy with her legs spread, a bobby pin falling out of her hair, hands clutching at her holes. Perhaps she’ll have clamps on her nipples, with the rubber guards removed this time, so that it’s metal teeth on skin. The clamp’s chain will dangle between her purple lips. 


The computer chair squeaks with each thrust of her hips. My dirty girl doesn’t take her time; she knows what she wants. I stare at her twitching foot through the peephole and imagine us in that video: my ropes around her neck, watching as her face turns a beautiful shade of plum that complements her painted lips, mascara staining her cheeks, blood racing down her chest and hips, slashes from my knife marking her like a torn bag of cement, her velvet walls constricting around my shaft like she’s taking the life out of me.


And then, on the other side of the wall, a moan erupts from Remedy’s lips like a lamb who knows it’s about to be slaughtered, a sweet cry that lets the last notes hang in the air. With that image of her mouth twisting in release as she rips the clamps off of her nipples, I rub my length, my knuckles ramming into the wall. She gasps. Her computer chair creaks as she quickly stands up. A ruffle of commotion, like things being pushed around her bedroom. Perhaps she’s searching for a weapon to defend herself against a rather big rat. And that fear pushes me over the edge; my hot spurts of release soak my boxers.


After a few moments, she gives up, and this time I see the tips of her brown nipples, raw and red, as she crosses in front of the hole. I’m hard again. But she’s distracted; this is my chance to move. I inch between the inner and outer wall, not wanting to disturb her this time. After all, I enjoy watching Remedy and want to keep doing so. As an expert in my field, my job gives me access to houses all over Key West, and I’ve gotten to know her well over the past few months. I know the jasmine scent of her hair that lingers on her lumpy pillow. I’ve sniffed the sweet and tangy musk in her dirty panties. I know exactly the kinds of dirty videos she watches on repeat. And I know that her full name is Remedy Elise Basset and that she’s a personal assistant to the wealthy. I even know that she uses the password Bones1934 for practically everything. 


The doorbell rings and I freeze in place. There’s never been a visitor before. Curious, I slide back to the peephole. There’s a loud clatter—she’s probably hiding those clamps—then an aerosol room spray puffs into the air. She flickers in front of the hole for a moment. Once she’s gone, I press my nose to the hole, using that single moment of solitude to take it in: the nauseatingly ripe stench of fruit punch, synthetically saccharine. It beats the hell out of plaster, rotting trees, and come.


Another body passes in front of the hole. Pale soft arms, the strap of something—probably a purse—hanging from a shoulder. She doesn’t live here, or she would have left her purse in the other bedroom. This is a good thing; I prefer my little cure by herself. 


“You should have had me pick you up,” Remedy says. Her words are muffled by the wall, but I can still hear the coarseness of her voice. I can’t wait to hear that raspy gasp when she screams for me.


“You’re one to talk,” the friend laughs, her voice high like a runty little puppy.


“I took the self-defense classes; you didn’t. A serial killer is out there.”


I hold back a chuckle. Like a groin jab or pepper spray will stop a serial killer.


“Peter escorted me,” the friend says.


Remedy scoffs under her breath; even through the walls, I can hear the disdain in her voice. Whoever he is, she doesn’t trust Peter like her friend does. 


“So you finally got the transfer?” Remedy asks, changing the subject.


“Starting on Monday at this old lady’s house on Duval.” 


“But did you tell LPA what Winstone did?”


The friend hesitates. And if I know my little cure, the longer the seconds drag on, the antsier she gets. She likes tapping her fingers on her sides, flicking them open and close, to keep herself under control. Straining my fingers, I match her movements behind the wall. I’m a big man squeezed into a tight space, like stuffing a king-sized mattress into the back of a golf cart. I can’t get comfortable, and it’s hot as balls, but it’s worth it. With these motions, I try to get inside of her head. Is it sadness? Perhaps. Anxiety? Anger? Why does she keep it locked inside of her rib cage?


Whatever happened doesn’t have to do with Remedy. It’s her friend’s problem. 


“I just want it to blow over,” the friend says. 


A faint sigh escapes Remedy’s lips. The lock on her bedroom door crunches, and the blinds over her windows shift up, then down, like she’s checking to make sure her windows are locked. It’s a nervous habit, one she does often even when she’s alone, to make sure she knows exactly who can get in and who can get out. 


“He backhanded you,” Remedy says, anger in her raspy voice. “Slapped you. Spanked your ass like you were a child.” She groans, and I imagine her throwing her hands up in the air, but in the hole, I only see the empty spot next to her desk. The two women must be sitting on her bed. “Someone has to do something.” 


“But that doesn’t have to be me,” the friend says. “Or you.”


A slight pause passes between them. I shift my weight, angling myself toward the bed, but now, all I see is the wall. 


“I’m not going to let it happen again,” Remedy says, a warning in her tone. 


“This isn’t about your—”


A phone vibrates, rattling on a hard surface. The two of them scramble for the device, but it beeps and Remedy answers it. 


“This is Remedy Basset,” she says. The taps of her feet are light on the hard floor as she paces the room. A bare shoulder passes in front of the hole, a lace-lined camisole sits on her frame. I rub my fingers along the inner plaster of the wall as if I can feel her smooth skin, and I imagine stroking the intricate black lace tattoo sprawling over her supple stomach. She turns around, pacing the other direction, and I suck in a breath. 


“You mean Mr. Winstone at the Winstone Estate, correct?” Remedy asks the caller. She whispers to her friend, then clears her throat. “Absolutely. I’ll be ready. Thank you.”


As soon as the phone beeps again, the friend wails.


“What the hell, Remedy?” she asks. “This is bullshit.”


“It’s a job,” Remedy says, her tone matter-of-fact. “Since the Johnsons left, I’ve been out of work. You know how hard it is in the off-season.”


Another pause stretches between them. There must be some truth to that statement, even if it is convenient that the personal assistant agency assigned Remedy to the same job her friend recently left. 


“But you took a job with him?” the friend asks. “You encouraged me to transfer, just so you could take my job? What’s up with that?”


“It’s luck,” Remedy says. “Bad, bad luck. But this way, he can’t hurt you or anyone else anymore.”


“So what, he’ll hurt you instead?”


“I’m going to hurt him too.”


A pause shifts between the two women. “Remmie,” the friend says. 


“It’s fine. It’s a short assignment. Temporary until they find a better match.”


“Temp for a month, right? Then he’ll sign you for a year. That’s what he did with me.”




“Like you said. It’s fine at first. He left me alone, right? Like I was a meaningless staff member. But then he physically assaulted me. And you want to work for him? What if he does it to you too?”


“Then I’m going to get it on camera.” 


“He’s got his surveillance under tight control.”


“I’ll install my own.”


“I’m telling you, he’ll know about it.”


“And if I have to, I’ll kill him.”


Kill him?


The friend gasps. My groin tenses with sudden pressure. She’s so damn hot. Maneuvering between the walls, inch by inch, I take my phone out of my pocket, careful not to make any sudden movements. I don’t want to stir the two women into a frenzy. My associate, the same one who hacked Remedy’s webcam, gave me an app to see her webcam on my phone at any time. I want to see her face. The thick, dark brows, her shiny black hair. Her eyes beaming down her nose as she looks at her friend. So sure of herself, like she knows she’s going to kill him. 


Most people say that in bluster, confident until the knife is in their hand, then they can’t do anything. Not because of the guilt at the life they’re stealing, but at the fear of getting caught. But others? We can look each other in the eye and feel it. Murder is an action and death is the result. And Remedy? 


Perhaps that’s why I haven’t killed her yet. 


But when I click the app, it says: Webcam Offline. She must have closed her laptop when she finished that video. Damn it. 


“I’m not going to let Winstone go unpunished,” Remedy says, her voice stern. 


“He’s not your stepdad,” the friend squeals out, then gasps again, like she immediately regrets it. “Winstone is more like your stepbrother than your stepdad. And you said so yourself: Brody didn’t even bother you that much.”


This time, Remedy says nothing. I press my eye to the hole, but the desk is all I have. The nail polish stains. An empty water bottle. A peel of an orange. 


“I shouldn’t have said that,” the friend stammers. 


This time, Remedy walks past the peephole, and I catch a glimpse of her hand—black nail polish, always chipped, her fingers clutched around the other arm like she’s holding herself. 


“I have to do this,” Remedy says. “Or I won’t forgive myself.”


“You don’t know what he’s capable of.”


“I’ve dealt with people like him before.”


“Brody was still your family. Winstone isn’t. He can really hurt you, Remmie.”


“I’m not going to let anyone get away with it again.”


There’s a boisterousness in those words that silences the both of them, an emphatic declaration that Remedy knows what she wants. The friend groans, but Remedy doesn’t offer anything to placate her. She’s not going to give up on this. I like that. 


“You have to be careful,” the friend says.


“I will.”


“You’re doing this alone. That means he’s got more power over you.”


“At least he’s not getting us at the same time,” Remedy chuckles.


“That would almost be better. I could distract him while you take him on.”


“Yeah, right!”


The two women laugh, and finally, I zone out. The conversation wanders into monotony, droning about work, school, family, topics I care little about. I don’t understand the term ‘best friend,’ but with the way these two talk, I imagine this is what it is.


Eventually, the friend leaves, and Remedy sighs. She’s relieved, and I let out a breath too. The friend’s voice is like shredding eardrums on a cheese grater. The lock shudders in the front of the house, the bedroom door slams shut, and then the computer chair squeaks with Remedy’s weight. The keyboard clicks. She’s using her laptop, then. I check the phone app, switching to the mirrored screen. She flips through the usual social media pages, even searching for the Winstone Estate and Mr. Winstone himself. 


She hovers over an old headline: Cassius Winstone, owner and CEO of The Winstone Company, reclusive developer of the Southeastern United States, discusses his new projects in Key West.


At least they got the ‘reclusive’ part right. 


Her phone pings, and as she checks it, I switch to the webcam view, her hand resting on the keyboard, her eyes on her phone in her lap. She smiles, then gets up, walking out of the room. The plumbing shudders through the house like an old machine stumbling to wake up. She must be starting a shower. Usually, I prefer to wait until the residents are sleeping to leave, but this is my queue. I take long, careful side steps through the wall cavity. With the gradual, stroking movements of my chest and legs against the inner walls, it’s less likely that she’ll hear anything, especially with the shower running. Once I bend into the crawl space, I emerge from the floor hatch. I brush my hands over my clothes, wiping off the dust from inside the cavity, then exit out the back door. She never hears it.


I relax behind the wheel of my truck. The pale moon breaks up the bright blue sky, and I nod my head at the tourists on the sidewalk: drunk, comfortable, completely unaware. A few police officers roam beside them, more than usual especially during the day, but the civilians seem fearless. A gruesome murder like the Key West Killer’s victims won’t keep them from enjoying their afternoons out. They hold on to the belief that it’ll never happen to them. 


 A woman in a red lace leotard and a thin sweater skips in front of one of the spring breaker bars, bumpy winter goosebumps covering her thighs. My mind wanders to Remedy. The tattoos of lace on her chest, dipping between her legs, like she can never truly be bare again. The way she answered the phone call from her agency was amusing, so formal and polite, like she’s completely trustworthy, not a deviant who yanks off toothed clamps from her nipples to get off. No. To everyone else, she’s Remedy, the angel willing to take a job working for a man who had committed terrible crimes against her best friend. She’s doing it to protect her friend and the rest of the world from him. 


Queue applause. This, my friends, is Remedy Basset. 


Inside Mike’s Home Supply, the closest hardware store in the area, the cashier bows his head, shrinking behind his shoulders, like a dog that’s been kicked too many times, but he’s not as innocent as he looks. I click my teeth at him, making sure he knows I see him. The owner emerges from the back. 


“What’re you doing back here already?” he asks. “You still working?”


“I was one batt of fiberglass short. You got any?”


“Twenty-three by ninety-three?”


That’s the one. I nod. “Same rate as yesterday?”


“I’ll send it upfront.”


I wander for a moment, always keeping myself in view of the cashier. I want to cut off his fingers, just to see his expression when he realizes that every suspicion he has about me is true. But if I kill him, then I won’t be able to see him squirm.


The owner drops the fiberglass batt onto the counter and I walk languidly up to the cashier. 


“Cash again today?” the cashier asks.


I slap the correct amount on the counter, never leaving the cashier’s eye contact. He’s always wary when it comes to our interactions. Begging for a card to keep on file. Asking for my name, in case they need to contact me about a new shipment. ‘Cash’ is enough. I know my place and there isn’t any reason to waste time with meaningless interactions. 


But my shaft twitches. I love knowing that he’s afraid of me. I tilt my head toward the register. He hasn’t liked me since I helped cover his ass for stealing from the store. 


“Don’t worry, kid,” I say. “You’re stuck with me for a while. At least until I finish these projects.”


“Thought you said you were moving soon?” he asks.


Ah, he remembers then. “Eventually.”


In truth, I don’t give a shit about stealing. I first stole lunch meat from a grocery store when I was nine years old. But I enjoy having power over someone. If you have a person in a corner, then they have to do whatever you say. And Remedy likes it dirty. What will make her finally crawl to me, begging for the sweet release I can give her?


I wink at the cashier, then grab the fiberglass batt. “You take care now.”


Outside, the sea air brushes my cheeks, the salty, mildly fishy scent hovering in the cold humidity. I suck in a breath. I always enjoy the winter here. The high sixties to mid-seventies. A light, constant breeze. Clear skies. And enough of a population to keep me entertained. Tourists. Locals. The rich bastards who visited their third homes for the winter. They all have their place here. And usually, I keep myself in check, only killing one to three every season. But this time, the itch is growing like my hunger for Remedy. I’ll have to do it again soon. And that will be my fifth this year. 


I decide to walk, leaving my truck on the street. I can have someone pick it up later. The occasional pedestrian passes and we exchange nods. The mayor has urged people to stay home after dark, but no one seems to think it can happen to them. And why would they? It’s not like they’ll pass a killer on the street. I like it that way. Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved button-up shirt, I look unimportant. The shock on their faces always amuses me when they realize how wrong they are. 


I find my way to the estate, right off of Queen Street. Six bedrooms, four bathrooms, two offices. Navy blue shutters on a crisp white exterior. Enough palm trees surround the property to give it a natural barrier of privacy beyond the white fence. The Winstone Estate. My home.


A black cat slinks up to my side. Her fur is matted, twigs tangled in the strands, but she purrs at my ankles, not giving a damn. She gazes up at the estate with me. 


“Do you have a home?” I ask. She purrs, and as I stroke her neck, I check for a collar, but her neck is bare. My mind shifts to Remedy’s dirty video, the rope around the adult actress’s neck. 


The image of Remedy sprawled out on that squeaking computer chair fills my mind: those light brown nipples strapped into the clamps, her moan of release when she rips them off, the tiny beads of reddened skin. 


I’m supposed to move soon. Get the hell out and keep law enforcement off of my back. 


But what if I stay?


If I pin my crimes on Remedy, perhaps killing everyone she loves, to prove that she’s the one who did it all, it’ll be new. A way to pass the time. A bigger challenge than simply moving away. 


The idea is enticing. I can’t kill her yet, then. But it’ll be worth it. 


The cat purrs against my leg, white patches around her eyes and nose and mouth, like the reverse image of a skeleton. Bones. Remedy’s favorite password. Those boney tattoos on her back fill my mind. Tattoos are a way to control your body, to show ownership over the canvas you’re given. But she doesn’t own that skin anymore. I’ll cut her up, leaving my scars, and my knife won’t be as forgiving as the tattoo gun. 


I gesture to the side of the house. “Let’s go home,” I say, and the black cat and I disappear

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