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Hideaway / (by Nora Roberts, 2020) -

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Hideaway /  (by Nora Roberts, 2020) -

Hideaway / (by Nora Roberts, 2020) -

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Hideaway / (by Nora Roberts, 2020) -
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2020
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Nora Roberts
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January LaVoy
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upper-intermediate
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15:45:56
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127 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Hideaway / :

.doc (Word) nora_roberts_-_hideaway.doc [1.63 Mb] (c: 2) .
.pdf nora_roberts_-_hideaway.pdf [2.82 Mb] (c: 10) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Hideaway

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To family, of the blood and of the heart PART I INNOCENCE LOST Daughters are the thing. J. M. BARRIE A little child loves everbody, friends, and its nature is sweetnessuntil something happens. FLANNERY OCONNOR CHAPTER ONE Big Sur ? 2001 When Liam Sullivan died, at the age of ninety-two, in his sleep, in his own bed with his wife of sixty-five years beside him, the world mourned. An icon had passed. Born in a little cottage tucked in the green hills and fields near the village of Glendree in County Clare, hed been the seventh and last child of Seamus and Ailish Sullivan. Hed known hunger in the lean times, had never forgotten the taste of his mothers bread and butter puddingor the whip-swat of her hand when hed earned it. Hed lost an uncle and his oldest brother in the first Great War, had grieved for a sister whod died before her eighteenth birthday delivering her second child. Hed known from an early age the backbreaking work of plowing a field behind a horse named Moon. Hed learned how to shear a sheep and slaughter a lamb, to milk a cow and build a rock wall. And he remembered, the whole of his long life, the nights his family sat around the firethe smell of peat smoke, the angel-clear voice of his mother raised in song, his father smiling at her as he played the fiddle. And the dancing. As a boy hed sometimes earn a few pennies singing in the pub while the locals drank their pints and talked of farming and politics. His soaring tenor could bring a tear to the eye, and his agile body and fast, clever feet lift the spirit when he danced. He dreamed of more than plowing the fields and milking the cow, much more than the pennies gathered at the little pub in Glendree. Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, he left home, a few precious punts in his pocket. He endured the Atlantic crossing with others looking for more in the cramped confines belowdecks. When the ship rolled and rocked in a storm, and the air stank of vomit and fear, he blessed his iron constitution. Dutifully, he wrote letters to home he dreamed of posting at the end of the voyage and kept spirits up by entertaining his fellow passengers with song and dance. He shared a flirtation and a few eager kisses with a flaxen-haired girl named Mary from Cork who traveled to Brooklyn and a position as a maid in some fine house. With Mary he stood in the cool, fresh airfresh at lastand saw the great lady with her torch held high. And thought his life had truly begun. So much color and noise and movement, so many people squashed into one place. Not just an ocean away from the farm where hed been born and reared, he thought. A world away. And his world now. He was bound to apprentice with his mothers brother Michael Donahue as a butcher in the Meatpacking District. He was welcomed, embraced, given a bed in a room he shared with two of his cousins. While in only a matter of weeks he grew to hate the sounds, the smells of the work, he earned his keep. Still, he dreamed of more. He found the more the first time he turned over a bit of that hard-earned pay to sit in a movie theater with Mary of the flaxen hair. There he saw magic on the silver screen, worlds far beyond everything he knew, worlds holding everything a man could want. There the sounds of bone saws, the thwack of cleavers didnt exist. Even pretty Mary faded away as he felt himself pulled into the screen and the world it offered. The beautiful women, the heroic men, the drama, the joy. When he surfaced, he saw all around him the enraptured faces of the audience, the tears, the laughter, the applause. This, he thought, was food for a hungry belly, a blanket in the cold, a light for the damaged soul. Less than a year after he saw New York from the deck of a ship, he left it to head west. He worked his way across the country, amazed at its size, at its changing sights and seasons. He slept in fields, in barns, in the backs of bars where he traded his voice for a cot. Once he spent the night in jail after a bit of a dustup in a place called Wichita. He learned to ride the rails, and evade the policeand as he would say in countless interviews over the course of his careerhad the adventure of a lifetime. When, after nearly two years of travel, he saw the big white sign spelling out HOLLYWOODLAND, he vowed that here he would find his fame and fortune. He lived on his wits, his voice, his strong back. With the wit he talked his way into building sets on back lots, sang his way through the work. He acted out the scenes he watched, practiced the various accents hed heard on the trip from east to west. Talkies changed everything, so now soundstages needed building. Actors hed admired in their silence on-screen had voices that screeched or rumbled, so their stars burned out and fell. His break came when a director heard him singing while he workedthe very tune the once-silent star was supposed to romance his lady with in a musical scene. Liam knew the man couldnt sing worth shite, and had his ear to the ground close enough to have heard there was talk about using another voice. It was, to his mind, simply being sure he was in the right place at the right time to be that voice. His face might not have appeared on the screen, but his voice held the audience. It opened the door. An extra, a walk-on, a bit part where he spoke his first line. Building blocks, stepping-stones, forming a foundation fueled by the work, the talent, and the Sullivan tireless energy. He, the farm boy from Clare, had an agent, a contract, and began in that Golden Age of Hollywood what would be a career that spanned decades and generations. He met his Rosemary when he and the pert and popular Rosemary Ryan starred in a musicalthe first of five films theyd make together in their lifetimes. The studio fed the gossip columns stories of their romance, but none of the hype was necessary. They married less than a year after they clapped eyes on each other. They honeymooned in Irelandvisiting his family, as well as hers in Mayo. They built a grand glamour of a home in Beverly Hills, had a son, then a daughter. They bought the land in Big Sur because, as with their romance, it was love at first sight. The house they built facing the sea they named Sullivans Rest. It became their getaway, then as years passed more their home. Their son proved the Sullivan-Ryan talent spanned generations, as Hughs star rose from child actor to leading man. As their daughter, Maureen, chose New York and Broadway. Hugh would give them their first grandson before his wife, the love of his life, died in a plane crash returning from a location shoot in Montana. That son would, in time, place another Sullivan star on the screen. Liam and Rosemarys grandson Aidan, believing, as with Sullivan tradition, hed found the love of his life in the silky blond beauty of Charlotte Dupont, married in glittery style (exclusive photos in People magazine), bought a mansion in Holmby Hills for his bride. And gave Liam a great-granddaughter. They named the fourth-generation Sullivan Caitlyn. Caitlyn Ryan Sullivan became an instant Hollywood darling when she made her film debut at twenty-one months playing the mischievous, matchmaking toddler in Will Daddy Make Three? The fact that most reviews found little Cate upstaged both adult leads (which included her mother as the female love interest) caused some consternation in certain quarters. It might have been her last taste of preadolescent stardom, but her great-grandfather cast her, at age six, as the free-spirited Mary Kate in Donovans Dream. She spent six weeks on location in Ireland, and shared the screen with her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-grandmother. She delivered her lines in a west county accent as if shed been born there. The film, a critical and commercial success, would be Liam Sullivans last. In one of the rare interviews he gave toward the end of his life, sitting under a flowering plum tree with the Pacific rolling toward forever, he said, like Donovan, hed seen his dream come true. Hed made a fine film with the woman hed loved for six decades, with their boys Hugh and Aidan, and the bright light of his great-granddaughter, Cate. Movies, he said, had given him the grandest of adventures, so this, he felt, was a perfect cap for the genie bottle of his life. On a cool, bright February afternoon, three weeks after his death, his widow, his family, and many of the friends hed made through the years gathered at his Big Sur estate toas Rosemary insistedcelebrate a life well and fully lived. Theyd held a formal funeral in L.A., with luminaries and eulogies, but this would be to remember the joy hed given. There were speeches and anecdotes, there were tears. But there was music, laughter, children playing inside and out. There was food and whiskey and wine. Rosemary, her hair as white now as the snow that laced the tops of the Santa Lucias, embraced the day as she settleda bit weary, truth be toldin front of the soaring stone fireplace in what they called the gathering room. There she could watch the childrentheir young bones laughing at winters biteand the sea beyond. She took her sons hand when Hugh sat beside her. Will you think Im a crazy old woman if I tell you I can still feel him, as if hes right beside me? As her husbands had, her voice carried the lilt of her home. How can I, when I feel it, too? She turned to him, her white hair cut short for style and ease, her eyes vivid green and full of humor. Your sister would say were both crazy. How did I ever produce such a practical-minded child as Maureen? She took the tea he offered her, winged up an eyebrow. Is there whiskey in it? I know my ma. That you do, my boy, but you dont know all. She sipped her tea, sighed. Then studied her sons face. So like his fathers, she thought. The damnably handsome Irish. Her boy, her baby, had silver liberally streaked through his hair, and eyes that still beamed the bluest of blues. I know how you grieved when you lost your Livvy. So sudden, so cruel. I see her in our Caitlyn, and in more than the looks. I see it in her light, the joy and fierceness of her. Im sounding crazy again. No. I see the same. I hear her laugh, and hear Livvy laugh. Shes a treasure to me. I know it, and to me as she was to your da. Im glad, Hugh, you found Lily and, after those long years alone, found happiness. A good mother to her own children, and a loving grandmother to our Cate these past four years. She is. Knowing that, knowing our Maureens happy, her children and theirs doing well, Ive made a decision. About what? The rest of my time. I love this house, she murmured. The land here. I know it all in every light, in every season, in every mood. You know we didnt sell the house in L.A. mostly for sentiment, and the convenience of having it if either of us worked there for any stretch of time. Do you want to sell it now? I think no. The memories there are dear as well. You know we have the place in New York and that Im giving it to Maureen. I want to know if youd want the house in L.A. or this one. I want to know because Im going to Ireland. To visit? To live. Wait, she said before he could speak. I may have been reared in Boston from my tenth year, but I still have family there, and roots. And the family your father brought me is there as well. He laid a hand over hers, lifted his chin to the big window, and the children, the family outside. You have family here. I do. Here, New York, Boston, Clare, Mayo, and, bless us, London now as well. God, but were far-flung, arent we, my darling? It seems we are. I hope all of them come to visit me. But Irelands where I want to be now. In the quiet and the green. She gave him a smile, with a twinkle in her eyes. An old widow woman, baking brown bread and knitting shawls. You dont know how to bake bread or knit anything. Hah. Now she slapped his hand. I can learn, cant I now, even at my advanced age. I know you have your home with Lily, but its time for me to give back, well say. God knows how Liam and I ever made so much money doing what we did for the love of it. Talent. Then he tapped a finger gently to her head. Smarts. Well, we had both. And now I want to shed some of what we reaped. I want that lovely cottage we bought in Mayo. So which is it for you, Hugh? Beverly Hills or Big Sur? Here. This. When she smiled, he shook his head. You knew before you asked. I know my boy even better than he knows his ma. Thats settled then. Its yours. And I trust you to tend to it. You know I will, but None of that. My minds made up. I damn well expect Ill have a place to lay my head when I come visit. And I will come. We had good years here, me and your da. I want what came from us to have good years here as well. She patted his hand. Look out there, Hugh. She laughed as she saw Cate do a handspring. Thats the future out there, and Im so grateful I had a part in making it. While Cate did handsprings to entertain two of her younger cousins, her parents argued in their guest suite. Charlotte, her hair swept back in a chignon for the occasion, paced the hardwood, her Louboutins clicking like impatient fingersnaps. The raw energy pumping from her had once enthralled Aidan. Now it just made him tired. I want to get out of here, Aidan, for Gods sake. And we will, tomorrow afternoon, as planned. She whirled on him, lips sulky, eyes sheened with angry tears. The soft winter light spilled through the wide glass doors at her back and haloed around her. Ive had enough, cant you understand? Cant you see Im on my last nerve? Why the hell do we have to have an idiotic family brunch tomorrow? We had the goddamn dinner last night, we had this whole endless deal todaynot to mention the funeral. The endless funeral. How many more stories do I have to hear about the great Liam Sullivan? Once hed thought she understood his thick, braided family ties, then hed hoped shed come to understand them. Now they both understood she just tolerated them. Until she didnt. Weary to the bone, Aidan sat, gave himself a minute to stretch out his long legs. Hed started to grow a beard for an upcoming role. It itched and annoyed him. He hated that, at the moment, he felt exactly the same about his wife. The rough spots in their marriage had smoothed out recently. Now it seemed theyd hit another bumpy patch. Its important to my grandmother, Charlotte, to my father, to me, to the family. Your familys swallowing me whole, Aidan. She did a heel turn, her hands flying out. So much drama, he thought, over a few more hours. Its just one more night, and therell only be a handful of us left by dinner. Well be home this time tomorrow. We still have guests, Charlotte. We should be downstairs right now. Then let your grandmother deal with them. Your father. You. Why cant I take the plane and go home? Because its my fathers plane, and you, Caitlyn, and I will fly home with him and Lily tomorrow. For now, were a united front. If we had our own plane, I wouldnt have to wait. He could feel the headache growing behind his eyes. Do we really need to go there? And now? She shrugged. Nobody would miss me. He tried another tack, smiled. He knew, from experience, his wife reacted better to the sweet than the stern. I would. And on a sigh, she smiled back. She had a smile, he thought, that just stopped a mans heart. Im being such a pain in the ass. Yeah, but youre my pain in the ass. On a quick laugh, she walked over, cuddled on his lap. Im sorry, baby. Almost sorry. Sort of sorry. You know Ive never liked it up here. It feels so isolated it makes me claustrophobic. And I know that doesnt make sense. He knew better than to stroke that shining blond hair after shed had it styled, so he lightly kissed her temple instead. I get it, but well be home tomorrow. I need you to stick just one more night, for my grandmother, my dad. For me. After letting out a hiss, she poked his shoulder, then offered him her signature pout. Full coral lips, sulky and soft crystal-blue eyes dramatically lashed. I better get points. Big points. How about a long weekend in Cabo points? On a gasp, she grabbed his face with her hands. You mean it? Ive got a couple weeks before I start production. So saying, he rubbed a hand over his scruff. Lets say we hit the beach for a few days. Catell love it. She has school, Aidan. Well take her tutor. How about this? Now she circled her arms around him, pressed her body, still in mourning black, against his. Cate has a long weekend with Hugh and Lily, which shed love. And you and I have a few days in Cabo. She kissed him. Just us. Id love some just us, baby. Dont you think we need some just us? She was probably rightthe smooth patches needed tending as much as the rough. While he hated leaving Cate, she was probably right. I can make that work. Yes! Im going to text Grant, see if he can do some extra sessions this week. I want a perfect bikini body. You already have one. Thats my sweet husband talking. Well see what my hard-assed personal trainer says. Oh! She hopped up. I need to shop. Right now we have to get back downstairs. The flicker of annoyance marred her face before she smoothed it away. Okay. Youre right, but give me a couple minutes to fix my face. Your face is gorgeous, as always. Sweet husband. She pointed at him as she started toward her makeup counter. Then stopped. Thanks, Aidan. These past few weeks, with all the tributes, the memorials, its been hard on all of us. A few days away, well, thatll be good for us. Ill be right down. While her parents made up, Cate organized a game of hide-and-seek as the final outdoor game of the day. Always a favorite when the family gathered, the game had its rules, restrictions, and bonus points. In this case, the rules included outdoors onlyas several of the adults had decreed no running inside. The It got a point for every hider found, with the first found designated as the next It. If that hider, now It, was five or under, he or she could choose a partner on the following hunt. If a hider went three rounds without being found, that meant ten bonus points. And since Cate had been planning this game all day, she knew how to win them. She darted off when Boyd, age eleven, started the countdown as the first It. Since Boyd lived in New York like his grandmother, he only visited Big Sur a couple times a year at most. He didnt know the grounds like she did. Plus, she had a fresh hiding place already picked out. She rolled her eyes as she saw her five-year-old cousin Ava crawl under the white cloth of a food table. Boyd would find Ava in two minutes. She nearly backtracked to show Ava a better spot, but it was every kid for herself! Most of the guests had gone, and more were taking their leave. But a lot of adults still milled around the patios, the outdoor bars, or sat around one of the firepits. Remembering why, she felt a pang. Shed loved her great-grandda. Hed always had a story to tell, and lemon drops in his pocket. Shed cried and cried when her daddy told her Grandda had gone to heaven. Hed cried, too, even when he told her Grandda had had a long, happy life. How hed meant so much to so many, and would never be forgotten. She thought of his line from the movie theyd made together, while he sat with her on a stone wall, looking over the land. A lifes marked along the way, darlin, by the deeds we do, for good or ill. Those we leave behind judge those marks, and remember. She remembered lemon drops and hugs as she scurried to the garage, and around the side. She could still hear voices, from the patios and terraces, the walled garden. Her goal? The big tree. If she climbed to the third branch, she could hide behind the thick trunk, in the green leaves that smelled so good, ten feet up. Nobody would find her! Her hairCeltic blackflew behind her as she ran. Her nanny, Nina, had tucked it back at the sides with butterfly pins to keep it out of her face. Her eyes, bold and blue, danced as she flew out of sight of the multitiered house, far beyond the guest cottage with its steps leading down to the little beach, and the pool that overlooked the sea. Shed had to wear a dress for the first part of the day, to be respectful, but Nina had laid out her play clothes for after. She still had to be careful of the sweater, but knew it was okay to get her jeans dirty. Im going to win, she whispered as she reached up for the first branch of the California bay, put her purple (currently her favorite color) sneaker in the little knothole for purchase. She heard a sound behind her and, though she knew it couldnt be Boyd, not yet, her heart jumped. She caught a glimpse of the man in a servers uniform, with a blond beard and hair pulled back in a ponytail. He wore sunglasses that shot the light back at her. She grinned, put a finger to her lips. Hide-and-seek, she told him. He smiled back. Want a boost? He nodded, then moved forward as if to give her one. She felt the sharp needle stick on the side of her neck, started to swat at it as she might a bug. Then her eyes rolled back, and she felt nothing at all. He had the gag on, zip ties on her wrists and ankles in seconds. Just a precaution, as the dose should keep her out for a couple hours. She didnt weigh much and, as a man in excellent shape, he could have carried her the few feet to the waiting cart had she been a full-grown woman. After shoving her into the cabinet of the service cart, he rolled it toward the caterers vanoutfitted for just this purpose. He pushed it up the ramp, shut the cargo doors. In under two minutes, he drove down the long drive, wound to the edge of the private peninsula. At the security gates, he entered the code with a gloved finger. When the gates opened, he drove through, made his turn, then hit Highway 1. He resisted pulling off the wig, and the fake beard. Not yet, and he could handle the annoyance of them. He didnt have far to go, and expected hed have the ten-million-dollar brat locked inside the high-class cabin (owners currently in Maui) before anyone even thought to look for her. When he turned off the highway again, started up the steep drive to where some rich asshole decided to build a vacation paradise stuck in with a bunch of trees, rocks, chaparral, he was whistling a tune. Everything had gone smooth as silk. He caught sight of his partner pacing on the second-story deck of the cabin and rolled his eyes. Talk about an asshole. They had this knocked, for Christs sake. Theyd keep the kid sedated, but wear masks just in case. In a couple of daysmaybe lesstheyd be rich, the kid could go back to the fucking Sullivans, and he, with a new name, new passport, would be on his way to Mozambique to soak up some sun in style. He pulled the van around the side of the cabin. You couldnt see the cabin from the road, not really, so he knew no one would see the van blocked by trees around the side. By the time he hopped out, his partner had run down to meet him. Have you got her? Shit yeah. Nothing to it. Are you sure nobody saw you? Are you sure Jesus, Denby, chill. No names, Denby hissed, pushing up his sunglasses as he looked around as if somebody waited in the woods to attack. We cant risk her hearing our names. Shes out. Lets get her upstairs, locked in so I can get this crap off my face. I want a beer. Masks first. Look, youre not a fucking doctor. We cant be a hundred percent shes still out. Fine, fine, go get yours. Ill stick with this. He patted the beard. As Denby went back inside, he opened the cargo doors, hopped in to open the cabinet doors. Out, he thought, as in o-u-t. He rolled her out onto the floor, dragged her back toward the doornot a peep from herthen hopped out again. He glanced back when Denby appeared in his Pennywise the Dancing Clown mask and wig, and he laughed like a loon. If she wakes up before we get her inside, shell probably faint from fright. We want her scared, dont we, so shell cooperate. The little spoiled rich bitch. Thatd do the trick. Youre no Tim Curry, but thatd do the trick. He slung Cate over his shoulder. Everything ready up there? Yeah. The windows are locked down. Still got a hell of a view of the mountains, Denby added as he followed his partner inside the rustic plush of the entryway, the open living area. Not that shell enjoy that, since were keeping her out or the next thing to it. Denby jumped as The Mexican Hat Dance played from the phone clipped to his partners belt. Goddamn it, Grant! Grant Sparks only laughed. Used my name, nimrod. He carted Cate up the stairs to the second floor, open to the first with its cathedral ceiling. Thats a text from my sugar. You gotta chill, man. He carried Cate into the bedroom theyd selected because it faced the back and had its own bathroom. He dumped her on the four-poster Denby had stripped down to sheetscheap sheets theyd bought, and would take away with them. The en suite was to avoid dragging her out of the room, avoiding a potential mess neither of them wanted to clean up. If she made one, theyd wash the sheets. Once theyd finished theyd remake the bed, nice and tidy and with the original bedding, and remove the nails hammered into the window locks. He looked around, satisfied that Denby had taken out anything the kid could use as a weaponas ifor bust out a window with. Shed be too drugged up for that, but why take chances? When they left, the house would be exactly as theyd found it. No one would know theyd ever been inside. You took out all the lightbulbs? Every one. Good job. Keep her in the dark. Go ahead and clip those ties, take off the gag. If she wakes up, has to piss, I dont want her doing it in the bed. She can beat on the door, scream her head off. Wont make a diff. How long do you figure shell be under? A couple hours. We bring her some doctored soup when she does, and thatll keep her out for the night. When are you going out to call? After dark. Hell, theyre not even looking for her yet. She was playing fucking hide-and-seek, as advertised, and headed straight for the grab spot. He gave Denby a slap on the back. Smooth as silk. Finish up, make damn sure you lock the door. Im getting this crap off my face. He pulled off the wig, the wig net under it, revealing a short, stylish mop of sun-streaked brown hair. Im going for a beer. CHAPTER TWO As the guests dwindled down to family, Charlotte did her duty, sat with Rosemary, made conversation with Lily, with Hugh. She reminded herself the reward made the effort worthwhile. And it did take effort. Lily might see herself as a big-deal actress because shed gotten a couple of Oscar nominations (didnt win, did she!), but however nice she played it, Charlotte could feel her dislike. Hell, she could taste it whenever she got within five feet of the old hag with her stupid southern belle accent. But she could play nice, too, and did, forcing a smile when Lily let out that brassy laugh of hers. A laugh Charlotte figured was as fake as Lily Morrows trademark red hair. She sipped a cosmo Hugh had mixed her at the bar on the far side of the gathering room. At least the Sullivans knew how to make a decent drink. So shed drink, smile, act like she gave a shit when someone told another Saint Liam story. And wait it out. As the sun dipped down toward the ocean, a ball of fire sinking toward the blue, the kids came inside. Dirty, noisy, and, of course, ravenous. There were hands and faces to be washed, and in some cases, clothes to change before the children had their dinner, had their baths. The older ones could vote on a movie to watch in the theater, while the adults had their meal and the younger children their bedtime. In the kitchen, nannies put approved meals togethertaking into account this ones peanut allergy, that ones lactose intolerance, another being raised vegan. Nina, busy preparing fresh fruit, glanced around, counting heads. She smiled at Boyd as he grabbed some baked chips. Isnt Caitlyn hungry? I dunno. He shrugged, tried some salsa. She didnt win. She can say she did, but she didnt. Because his nannylike he needed one!was busy with his little sister, Boyd snuck a cookie even though they were off-limits before dinner. She didnt come in when we called the game, so thats default. She didnt come in with the rest of you? A smart boy, he made short work of the cookie in case his own nanny looked his way. Nobody found her, so shell say she won, but she defaulted. Maybe she snuck in the house before, and thats cheating. Either way, she didnt win. Caitlyn doesnt cheat. Wiping her hands, Nina set off to look for her girl. She checked Cates room, in case shed come in to change or to use the bathroom. She glanced around the second floor, but many of the doors were closed, so she walked out on the wide, cantilevered terrace. She called out, more impatient than concerned, walked down the railed bridge that led to the pool side of the house, then back again before she took the steps down. Cate loved the walled garden, so she looked there, wandered through the little orchard beyond it, calling, calling. The sun dipped lower; the shadows lengthened. The air began to chill. And her heart began to thump. A city girl, born and raised in L.A., Nina Torez had what she considered a healthy distrust of the country. She began to imagine poisonous snakes, cougars, coyotes, even bears as her calls for Cate rose to desperate. Silly, she told herself, all that was just silly. Catey was fine, had just fallen asleep somewhere in the big house. Or She rushed to the guest cottage, burst inside, calling for her charge. The sea side of the guest cottage was a sheer wall of glass. Staring out at the sea, she thought of all the ways a little girl could be swallowed up. And thinking of Cates love for the little beach, she raced out, down the steps, called and called while the sea lions reclining on the rocks watched her with bored eyes. She raced up again to try the pool house, the garden shed. Sprinted inside to the lower level to search the theater, the family room, the rehearsal space, even the storage areas. She raced back out the other side to check the garage. Caitlyn Ryan Sullivan! You come out right now! Youre scaring me. And she found the butterfly barrette shed tucked into Cates long, lovely hair that morning on the ground by the old tree. It meant nothing, she thought even as she clutched it in her hand. The girl had been doing handsprings, racing and running, doing pirouettes and jigs. It had just fallen out. She told herself that over and over as she ran back to the house. Tears blurred her eyes when she dragged open the huge front door, and all but ran into Hugh. Nina, what in the worlds the matter? I cantI cantMr. Hugh, I cant find Caitlyn. I cant find her anywhere. I found this. She held out the barrette, burst into tears. Here now, dont you worry. Shes just tucked up somewhere. Well find her. She was playing hide-and-seek. The trembling started as he led her into the main living room, where most of the family had gathered. II came in to help Maria with little Circi and the baby. She was playing with the other children, and I came inside. Charlotte, sitting with a second cosmo, looked over as Hugh led Nina in. For Gods sake, Nina, whats going on? I looked everywhere. I cant find her. I cant find Catey. Shes probably just upstairs in her room. No, maam, no. I looked. Everywhere. I called and called. Shes a good girl, shed never hide away when I called for her, when she could hear I was worried. Aidan got to his feet. When did you last see her? They started, all the children, to play hide-and-seek. An hourmore now. She was with the other children, so I came to help with the babies and little ones. Mr. Aidan She held out the barrette. I only found this, by the big tree near the garage. It was in her hair. I put it in her hair this morning. Well find her. Charlotte, check upstairs again. Both floors. Ill help. Lily rose, as did her daughter. Well start checking this level. Hughs sister patted Charlottes shoulder. Im sure shes fine. Youre supposed to watch her! Charlotte shoved to her feet. Ms. Charlotte Charlotte. Aidan took his wifes arm. Nina wouldnt have any reason to watch Cate every minute while shes playing with all the kids. Then where is she? Charlotte demanded, and ran from the room calling for her daughter. Nina, come sit with me. Rosemary held out a hand. The men are going to look outside, every nook and cranny. The rest will look through the house. Rosemary tried a comforting smile that didnt reach her eyes. And when we find her, Im going to give her a good talking-to. For more than an hour, they looked, covering every inch of the sprawling house, its outbuildings, the grounds. Lily gathered the children, asked when theyd last seen Cate. It came down to the game Cate herself had instigated. Lily, her flame-red hair disordered from the search, took Hughs hand. I think we need to call the police. The police! Charlotte shrieked it. My baby! Somethings happened to my baby. Shes fired! That useless womans fired. Aidan, God, Aidan. As she half swooned against him, the phone rang. On a deep breath, Hugh walked over, picked up the phone. This is the Sullivan residence. If you want to see the girl again, itll take ten million, in unmarked, nonsequential bills. Pay, and shell be returned to you unharmed. If you contact the police, she dies. If you contact the FBI, she dies. If you contact anyone, she dies. Keep this line open. Ill call with further instructions. Wait. Let me But the phone went dead in his hand. Lowering the phone, he looked at his son with horror. Someones got Cate. Oh, thank God! Where is she? Charlotte demanded. Aidan, we need to go get her right now. Thats not what Dad meant. His soul sank as he held Charlotte tight against him. Is it, Dad? They want ten million. What are you talking about? Charlotte tried to struggle out of Aidans arms. Ten million for Youshe My babys been kidnapped? We need to call the police, Lily said again. We do, but I need to tell you He said, if we did, hed hurt her. Hurt her? Shes just a little girl. Shes my little girl. Weeping, Charlotte pressed her face to Aidans shoulder. Oh God, God, how could this happen? Nina! That bitch is probably part of this. I could kill her. She shoved away from Aidan, rounded on Lily. Nobodys calling the police. I wont let them hurt my little girl. My child! We can get the money. She grabbed a fistful of Aidans shirt. The money is nothing. Aidan, our little girl. Tell them well pay, pay anything. Just give us back our baby. Dont worry, dont worry. Were going to get her back, get her back safe. Its not the money, Charlotte. Terrified, Hugh rubbed his hands over his face. What if we pay, and they they still hurt her? We need help. What if? What if? When she turned back to face him, Charlottes carefully styled chignon tumbled, spilling hair around her shoulders. Didnt you just say if we didnt pay, theyd hurt her, if we called the police, theyd hurt her? I wont risk my daughter. I wont. They might be able to trace the call, Aidan began. They might be able to find out how someone took her away. Might? Might? Her voice pitched up, a shriek like nails on a blackboard. Is that what she means to you? She means everything to me. Aidan had to sit as his legs shook. We have to think. We have to do whats best for Catey. We pay whatever he wants, do whatever he says. Aidan, dear God, Aidan, we can get the money. Its our baby. Ill pay. Hugh stared into Charlottes tear-ravaged face, into his sons terrified one. She was taken from my fathers house, a house my mother has given to me. Ill pay. On a fresh sob, Charlotte threw herself into his arms. Ill never forget Shell be all right. Why would he hurt her if we give him what he wants? I want my little girl. I just want my little girl. Reading Hughs signal as Charlotte clutched at him, Lily moved in. Here now, here now, let me take you upstairs. Miranda, she said to her youngest daughter, why dont you help keep the children occupied, maybe take them down to the theater, put on a movie, and have someone bring Charlotte up some tea? Everythings going to be fine, she soothed as she pulled Charlotte away. I want my baby. Of course you do. Put on some coffee, Rosemary said. She sat, face pale, hands linked tight, but back straight. We need our wits about us. Ill make some calls, start arranging for the money. No, Hugh said when Aidan started out. Leave her to Lily for now. Its best to leave her to Lily. Theres more to consider than getting the money, and how in Gods name they took Cate from under our noses. Theyre amateurs, and that scares me to death. Why do you say that? Aidan demanded. Ten million, Aidan, in cash. I can find a way to get it, and I will, but the logistics after? How do they expect to transport such a large amount? The practicalities. Its not smart, son, its not. Having the money wired, having a way, an account, thats smart. This isnt. As everyone in the room started talking at once, voices raised in anger and anxiety, Rosemary got slowly to her feet. Enough! And with her power as the matriarch, the room fell into silence. Have any of you ever seen ten million dollars, all in cash? Hughs right on this. Just as hes right we should be calling the police. But She held up a finger before the din started up again. Its Aidan and Charlotte who have the say on that. We all love Caitlyn, but shes their daughter. So well get the money. Hugh and I. Its for us, she said to Hugh. My house still, and soon to be yours. So well go into your fathers office, and do what we need to do to get it, and quickly. Get some tea up to her, Rosemary continued. And Ive no doubt someone around here has a sleeping pill or two. Given her personality, and her state of mind, it might be best to convince her to take a pill and sleep for now. Ill take the tea up, Aidan told her. And Charlotte has her own pills. Ill see she takes one. Before I do, Ill try again to convince her to call the police. Because I agree with you. Yet, if something happened One step at a time. She went to him, gripped his hands. Well get the money, your dad and I. And well do, all of us, whatever you and Charlotte decide. Nan. He brought her hands up, pressed them to his cheeks. My world. Cates the center of it. I know it. Youll stay strong for her. Lets get these bastards the money they want, Hugh. Cate woke slowly. Because her head hurt she squeezed her eyes tight, hunched into herself as if to push off the pain. Her throat felt sore, and something inside her tummy rolled like it wanted her to puke it out. She didnt want to throw up, didnt want to. She wanted Nina, or her daddy, or her mom. Somebody to make it stop. She opened her eyes to the dark. Something was really wrong. She was really sick, but she didnt remember getting really sick. The bed didnt feel righttoo hard, with scratchy sheets. She had a lot of beds in a lot of rooms. Her own at home, her bed at Grandpa and G-Lils, at Grandda and Nans, at No, her grandda had died, she remembered now. And theyd had a celebration because of his life. Playing, playing with all the kids. Tag, and tricks, and hide-and-seek. And The man, the man at her hiding place. Did she fall? She bolted up in bed, and the room spun. But she called out for Nina. Wherever she was, Nina was always close. As her eyes adjusted, as nothing looked right, she climbed out of bed. In the dim light from a scatter of stars, a slice of a moon, she made out a door and rushed to it. It wouldnt open, so she banged on it, crying now as she called for Nina. Nina! I cant get out. I feel sick. Nina. Daddy, please. Mom, let me out, let me out. Thinking it might come in handy later, they recorded her pleading cries. The door opened so fast it smacked against Cate, knocked her down. The light outside the door burned into the room, illuminated the face of a scary clown with sharp teeth. When she screamed, he laughed. Nobody can hear you, stupid, so shut the hell up or Ill break off your arm and eat it. Chill, Pennywise. A werewolf came in. He carried a tray, walked right by her as she scrambled back on her heels and elbows. He set it on the bed. You got soup, you got milk. You eat it, you drink it, otherwise my pal here will hold you down while I pour it down your throat. I want my daddy! Aww, the one called Pennywise made a mean laugh. She wants her daddy. Too bad because I already cut your daddy into pieces and fed him to the pigs. Knock it off, the wolfman said. Heres the deal, brat. You eat what we give you when we give it to you. You use that bathroom over there. You dont give us trouble, you dont make a mess, and youll be back with your daddy in a couple days. Otherwise, were going to hurt you, real bad. Fear and fury rose together. Youre not a real werewolf because thats made-up. Thats a mask. Think youre smart? Yes! How about this? Pennywise reached behind him, pulled a gun out of his waistband. Does this look real, you little bitch? You want to test it? Wolfman snarled at Pennywise. Now you chill. And you He added a second snarl for Cate. Little smart-ass. Eat that soup, all of it. Same with the milk. Or when I come back, Ill start breaking your fingers. Do what youre told, you go back to being a princess in a couple days. Leaning down, Pennywise grabbed her hair with one hand, yanked her head back, and pressed the gun to her throat. Back off, you fucking clown. Wolfman grabbed his shoulder, but Pennywise shook it off. She needs a lesson first. You want to find out what happens when little rich bitches back-talk? Say, No, sir. Say it! No, sir. Eat your fucking dinner. He stormed out as she sat on the floor, shaking, sobbing. Just eat the soup, for Christs sake, Wolfman muttered. And be quiet. He went out, locked the door. Because the floor was cold, she crawled back onto the bed. She didnt have a blanket, and couldnt stop shaking. Maybe she was a little hungry, but she didnt want the soup. But she didnt want the man in the clown mask to break her fingers or shoot her. She just wanted Nina to come and sing to her, or Daddy to tell her a story, or her mom to show her all the pretty clothes she bought that day. They were looking for her. Everybody. And when they found her, theyd put the men in the masks in jail forever. Comforted by that, she spooned up some soup. It didnt smell good, and the little bit she swallowed tasted wrong. Just wrong. She couldnt eat it. Why did they care if she ate it? Frowning, she sniffed at it again, sniffed at the glass of milk. Maybe they put poison in it. She trembled over that, rubbed her arms to warm them, to soothe herself. Poison didnt make sense. But it didnt taste right. Shed seen lots and lots of movies. Bad guys put stuff in food sometimes. Just because she was kidnapped, she wasnt stupid. She knew that much. And they didnt tie her up, just locked her in. She started to run to the window, then thought: Quiet, quiet. She eased out of bed, padded to the window. She could see trees and dark, the shadow of hills. No houses, no lights. Glancing behind her, heart thumping, she tried to open the window. She tried to unlock it, felt the nails. Panic wanted to come, but she closed her eyes, just breathed and breathed. Her mom liked to do yoga and sometimes let her do it, too. Breathe and breathe. They thought she was stupid. Just a stupid kid, but she wasnt stupid. She wasnt going to eat the soup or drink the milk that theyd put drugs in. Probably. Instead, she took the bowl and the glass, picked her way carefully toward the bathroom. She dumped it in the toilet first, then peed because she really had to. Then she flushed it all away. When they came back, shed pretend to be asleep. Deep, deep asleep. She knew how. She was an actress, wasnt she? And not stupid, so she slipped the spoon under the pillow. She didnt know what time it was, or how long shed slept before. Because hedone of themhad stuck her with a needle. But shed wait, just wait, until they came to take the tray away. And shed pray they wouldnt notice the spoon wasnt there. She tried not to cry anymore. It was hard, but she needed to think about what she had to do. Nobody could really think when they were crying, so she wouldnt. It took forever, it took so long she nearly did fall asleep. Then she heard the locks click, and the door open. Breathe slow, steady. Dont squeeze your eyes, dont jump if he touches you. Shed pretended to sleep beforeand even fooled Ninawhen she wanted to sneak and stay up and read. Music played, and nearly made her jump. The manthe wolf because she knew his voice now and recognized it from when he helped boost her up the treesaid a bad word. But he answered in a different kind of way. He said: Hi, lover. Youre calling from the idiot nannys phone, right? So if the cops ever check it, shell get blamed? Good, good. Whats the word? Yeah, yeah, shes fine. Im looking at her right now. Sleeping like a baby. He gave Cate a sharp poke in the ribs as he listened, and she lay still. Thats my girl. Keep it up. Dont let me down. Ill go make the next call in about thirty. You know I do, lover. Just a couple more days, and were home free. Counting the hours. She heard something rustle, didnt move, then heard him walking away. Morons, he muttered with a kind of laugh in his voice. People are fucking morons. And women are the biggest morons of all. The door shut, the locks clicked. She didnt move. Just waited, waited, counting in her head to a hundred, then another hundred until she risked letting her eyes slit open. She didnt see him or hear him, but kept breathing her sleeping breaths. Slowly, she sat up, took the spoon from under the pillow. As quietly as she could, she crept to the window. She and her grandpa had built a birdhouse once. She knew about nails, and how you could hammer them in. Or pry them out. She used the spoon, but her hands were slippery with sweat. She nearly dropped it, nearly started to cry again. She wiped her hands and the spoon on her jeans, tried again. At first it wouldnt move, not even a little. Then she thought it did, and tried harder. She thought she had it, nearly had it, when she heard voices outside. Terrified, she dropped down to the floor, her breath coming out in pants she couldnt stop. A car started. She heard wheels on gravel. Heard a door slam. The house door. One in the house, one going somewhere. She eased her head up, watched the taillights weave away. Maybe she should wait until they were both in the house again, but she was too afraid and, teeth gritted, went after the nail again. It popped out, flew up, then hit the floor with a click that sounded to her ears like an explosion. She jumped back on the bed, fought to lie still, to breathe deep, but she couldnt stop shaking. No one came, and tears of relief spilled out. Her hands had gone sweaty again, but she set to work prying out the second nail. She put it in her pocket, wiped her sweaty, hurting fingers. She managed to turn the lock on the window. As she opened it a crack, it sounded so loud. But no one came, not even when she opened it more, opened it enough to stick her head out and feel the cool night air. Too high, too high to jump. She listened, listened, for sounds of the ocean, of cars, of people, but heard nothing but the breeze, the call of a coyote, the call of an owl. No trees close enough to reach, no ledge or trellis or anything to help her climb down. But she had to climb down, then run. She had to get away and get help. She started with the sheets. At first she tried to tear them, but they wouldnt tear. So she tied them together as tight as she could, then added the pillowcases. The only thing to tie them to in the room was one of the bedposts. It would be like Rapunzel, she thought, except sheets instead of hair. Shed climb out of the tower. Nerves made her need to pee again, but she held it, set her jaw as she worked to tie the knot around the post. Then she heard the car coming back, felt the knots in her stomach pull tighter than any she could tie with sheets. If one of them checked on her now, theyd see. She should have waited. Trapped, she could do nothing but sit on the floor, imagining the door opening. The masks. The gun. Her fingers breaking. Rolling herself into a ball, she squeezed her eyes shut. She heard the voices again, carrying through the window. If they looked up, would they see shed opened it? One saidthe wolf voice: Jesus, asshole, you think this is the time to get high? The clown laughed. Damn straight. They getting the money? Smooth as silk, especially once they heard the recording, the wolf responded, and the voices trailed off. The door slammed. Too scared to worry about quiet, she dragged the makeshift rope to the window, tossed it out. Too short, she could see that right away, and thought of the towels in the bathroom. But they might come in, any minute, so she wiggled out the window, gripped the sheets. Her hands slid helplessly a few inches, and she had to bite back a scream. But she gripped hard, slowed the slide. She saw lightwindows below her. If they looked out, saw the sheets, saw her, theyd catch her. Maybe just shoot her. She didnt want to die. Please, please, please. Instinct had her wrapping her legs around the sheet, easing herself down until she reached the end. She could see right into the house, a big kitchenstainless steel, counters like dark brown stone, green walls, not bright but light. She closed her eyes, let go, let herself fall. It hurt. She had to hold back another cry when she hit the ground. Her ankle turned, her elbow banged, but she didnt stop. She ran toward the trees, believing with all her heart they wouldnt find her if she got to the trees. When she did, she kept running. Aidan slipped into the bedroom he shared with Charlotte. Exhausted, sick down to his soul, he walked to the windows. His Catey was out there, somewhere. Frightened, alone. Dear God, dont let them hurt her. Im not asleep, Charlotte murmured, and shifted to sit up. I only took half a pill, just to calm down. Im so sorry, Aidan. Being hysterical didnt help anyone. It doesnt help our baby. But Im so scared. He walked to the bed, sat, took her hand. He called again. She sucked in a breath, gripped hard. Caitlyn. He wouldnt tell her hed demanded to speak to her daughter, to be certain she was all right. He wouldnt tell her hed heard his child scream and sob she wanted her daddy. They have no reason to hurt her, every reason not to. Ten million reasons, he thought. What did they say? Are they going to let her go? Are we getting the money? He wants the money by midnight tomorrow. He wont say where yet. Hell call again. Dad and Nan are arranging it. He says when he gets the money, hell tell us where well find Cate. Were getting her back, Aidan. She wrapped around him, rocked. And then were never letting her go again. When shes safe, with us again, home again, were never coming back to this house. Charlotte No! Were never coming back to this house where this could happen. I want Nina fired. I want her gone. She pulled back, eyes filled with tears and fury. Ive been lying here, sick, scared, picturing my daughter trapped somewhere, crying for me. Nina? At best she was negligent, but at worst? She could be part of this, Hugh. Oh, Charlotte, Nina loves Cate. Listen now, listen. We think it must be one of the catering or event staff, or someone who got through posing as one of them. They had to have a car or truck or van to get her away. They had to have it planned out. Tears sheened over the arctic blue of Charlottes eyes, spilled down her pale cheeks. It couldve been someone in the family, a friend. Shed have gone with someone she knew. I cant believe that. I dont care about that. Charlotte brushed it away. I only want her back. I dont care about anything else. Its important we find out who and how. If we contacted the police No. No. No! Is the money more important to you than Caitlyn, than our baby? Hed forgive her for that, he told himself. She looked ravaged, looked ill, so hed forgive her for that eventually. You know better. I dont give a damn how upset you are, dont you say such a thing to me. Then stop talking to me about police when calling them could get her killed! I want my baby home, I want her safe. Shes not safe here. Shes not safe with Nina. Heading toward hysterical againhe recognized the signs. He couldnt find it in him to blame her. All right, Charlotte, well talk about all this later. Youre right. I know youre right, but Im terrified, Hugh. Im letting myself get wound up again because I cant stand thinking about our baby, alone and afraid. Oh God, Aidan. She dropped her head on his shoulder. Where is our baby? CHAPTER THREE Running, until she couldnt run any more, until she had to sit on the ground, shivering, shaking. Shed tripped a couple of times when the trees blocked out the moonlight and now her hands bled a little, and shed torn her jeans. Her knee hurt, and her ankle, her elbow, but she couldnt stop too long. She couldnt see the lights anymore from wherever shed been, and that was good. How could they find her when they couldnt see her? The bad? She didnt know where she was. It was so dark, and she was so cold. She heard coyotes off and on, and other things that rustled. She tried not to think about bears or wildcats. She didnt think she was high enough in the hills for thatGrandpa told her they lived higher, and stayed away from peoplebut she didnt know. Shed never been in the woods, alone in the dark before. All she knew, for certain, was that she had to keep going in the same direction. Away. But she wasnt even sure of that because at first shed been so scared she hadnt paid attention. Instead of running, now she walked. She could hear better when her own breath wasnt whistling in her ears. She could hear if someoneor somethingcame after her. Tired, so tired, she wanted to curl up and sleep. But something might eat her if she did. Or worse, she thought, worse, she might wake up back in that room. Where theyd break her fingers and shoot her. Her stomach hurt from hunger, and her throat clicked from thirst. When her teeth chattered, she didnt know if it was from fear or cold. Maybe she could sleep, just for a little while. She could climb a tree, sleep in the branches. It was so hard to think when she was so tired, so cold. She stopped, leaned against a tree, laid her cheek on the bark. If she climbed a tree, slept, maybe when the sun came up, she could see where she was. She knew the sun came up in the east, knew the ocean was west. So if she saw the ocean, shed know What? She still wouldnt know where she was because she didnt know where shed been. And they could find her when the sun came up. She trudged on, head drooping with fatigue, feet shuffling as she just couldnt lift them anymore. Half dreaming, she walked. And smiled a little at a sound. Then shook herself awake, listened. Was that the ocean? She thought, maybe And something else. She rubbed her tired eyes, stared ahead. A light. She saw a light. She kept her eyes on it, walked on. The ocean, she thought again, getting louder, closer. What if she missed a step and fell over a cliff? But the light, it was closer, too. The trees opened up. She saw a field in the moonlight. Wide and grassy. And cows. The light, well beyond the edge of the woods, the edge of the field, came from a house. She nearly walked into the barbed wire that kept the cows inside. She cut herself a little getting through it, ripped her new sweater. She remembered from making the movie in Ireland that cows grew a lot bigger for real than they looked in books or from a distance. She stepped in cow poop, and said Gak, with a ten-year-old girls disgust. From there, after swiping her sneaker on the grass, she tried to watch her step. A house, she saw now, that faced the ocean, with decks up and down, with a light through the lower windows. Barns and stuff that meant ranch. She navigated the barbed wire againmore successfully. She saw a truck, a car, smelled manure and animals. After stumbling again, she started to run toward the house. Someone to help, someone whod take her home. Then stopped herself. They could be bad people, too. How could she know? Maybe they were even friends with the people who locked her in the room. She needed to be careful. It had to be late, so theyd be asleep. She only had to get inside, find a phone, and call nine-one-one. Then she could hide until the police came. She crept toward the house, onto the wide porch in front. Though she expected to find it locked, she tried the front door, nearly dropped with relief when the knob turned. She eased inside. The lamp in the window burned low, but it burned. She could see a big room, furniture, a big fireplace, stairs leading up. She didnt see a phone, so she walked back toward a kitchen with green things growing in red pots on a wide windowsill, a table with four chairs, and a bowl of fruit. She grabbed an apple, shining green, bit in. As it crunched between her teeth, as juice hit her tongue, her throat, she knew shed never tasted anything so good. She saw the handset on the counter beside a toaster. Then she heard footsteps. Because the kitchen offered no place to hide, she rushed into the dining room open to it. Clutching the apple, more juice dribbling down her hand, she squeezed herself into a dark corner beside a bulky buffet. When the kitchen lights flashed on, she tried to make herself smaller. She caught a glimpse of him as he walked straight to the refrigerator. A boy, not a man, though he looked older than she, taller. He had a shaggy mop of dark blond hair, and wore only boxers. If she hadnt been so terrified, the sight of a mostly naked boy who wasnt a cousin would have mortified and fascinated her. He was pretty skinny, she noted, as he grabbed a drumstick out of the fridge, gnawed it while dragging out a jugnot like a store cartonof milk. He chugged milk right from the jug, set it on the counter. He sang to himself, or hummed, or made ba-da-ba-dum! noises while he pulled a cloth off what looked like some kind of pie. Thats when he turned, still ba-da-daing, pulled open a drawer. And saw her. Whoa! When shock had him jolting back, she had an instant to run. But before she gathered herself, he tipped his head to the side. Hey. You lost or something? He took a few steps toward her; she cringed back. In what would seem like a thousand years later, she would think back and remember exactly what he said, how he said it, how he looked. He smiled at her, spoke easily, like theyd met in some park or ice-cream shop. Its okay. Youre okay. Nobodys going to hurt you. Hey, are you hungry? My gram makes totally excellent fried chicken. We got leftovers. He wagged the drumstick he still held to prove it. Im Dillon. Dillon Cooper. This is our ranch. Me and Gram and Mom. He took another couple of steps as he spoke, then crouched down. When he did, his eyes changed. Green eyes, she could see now, but softer, quieter than Granddas. Youre bleeding. Howd you get hurt? She started to shake again, but she wasnt afraid of him. Maybe she trembled because she wasnt afraid of him. I fell down, and then there were sharp things where the cows are. We can fix you up, okay? You should come sit down in the kitchen. We have stuff to fix you up. Whats your name? Im Dillon, remember? Caitlyn. Catewith a C. You should come sit in the kitchen, Cate, and we can fix you up. I need to get my mom. Shes cool, he said quickly. Seriously. I need to call nine-one-one. I need the phone to call nine-one-one, so I came inside. The door wasnt locked. Okay, just let me get my mom first. Man, shed freak if the cops came when she was asleep. It would scare her. Her jaw wobbled. Can I call my daddy, too? Sure, sure. How about you come sit down first? Maybe finish your apple, let me get Mom. There were bad guys, she whispered, and his eyes widened. No shit? Dont tell Mom I said shit. When he reached out a hand, she took it. Where are they? I dont know. Man, dont cry. Its going to be okay now. You just sit down, let me get Mom. Dont run off, okay? Because well help you. I promise. Believing him, she lowered her head, nodded. Dillon wanted his mom more than anything and anyone, and ran for the back stairs. Finding a kid hiding in the house during a fridge raid was coolor wouldve been if she hadnt had cuts and bruises. And looked scared enough to pee her pants. Then it turned cool again because she wanted the cops, and the bad guys, more cool. Except she was just a kid, and somebody hurt her. He dashed into his mothers room without knocking, shook her shoulder. Mom, Mom, wake up. Oh God, Dillon, what? She mightve brushed him off, rolled over, but he shook her again. You gotta get up. Theres a kid downstairs, a girl kid, and shes hurt. She said she wants to call the cops because of bad guys. Julia Cooper opened one bleary eye. Dillon, youre dreaming again. Nuh-uh. Swear to God. I have to get back down to the kitchen because shes scared, and shell maybe run. You have to come. Shes bleeding a little. Now fully awake, Julia shot up in bed, shoved her long blond hair back from her face. Bleeding? Hurry, okay? Jeez, I have to get some pants. He bolted into his room, grabbed the jeans and sweatshirt hed tossed on the flooreven though he wasnt supposed to. On the run, he stuck a leg inside of his jeans, hopped along, shot in the other. His bare feet slapped the wood stairs as he dragged on the shirt. She still sat at the table, which had him letting out a whoosh of relief. Moms coming. Im going to get the first-aid kit out of the pantry. Then shell know what to do. You can eat that drumstick if you want. He gestured to the one hed dropped on the table. I only had one bite. But she hunched her shoulders together as someone came down the stairs. Its just Mom. Dillon James Cooper, I swear if you She stopped when she saw the girl, and the sleepy irritation dropped away from her face. Like her son, Julia knew how to approach the hurt and frightened. Im Julia, honey, Dillons mom. I need to take a look at you. Dillon, get the first aid kit. I am already, he muttered, and took it from a shelf in the big pantry. Now a clean cloth and a bowl of warm water. And a blanket. Light the fire in the kitchen hearth. He rolled his eyes behind her back, but obeyed. Whats your name, sweetie? Caitlyn. Caitlyn, thats pretty. Im going to clean this cut on your arm first. I dont think it needs stitches. She smiled as she spoke. Her eyes had a lot of gold in them, but there was green, too, like the boys. Like Dillons, Cate remembered. While Im fixing you up, why dont you tell me what happened. Dillon, pour Caitlyn a glass of that milk before you put it away. I dont want milk. They tried to give me milk but it was wrong. I dont want milk. All right. How about She broke off as Cate jolted. And Maggie Hudson came down the stairs. Maggie took one look at Cate, tipped her head. I wondered what all this noise was. Looks like weve got company. She had blond hair, too, but lighter than Dillons and his moms. Blue streaked through it on its way to her shoulders. She wore a T-shirt with a picture of a woman with lots and lots of curly hair that said JANIS under it and a pair of flowered pajama pants. This is my mom, Julia told her as she cleaned the slices on Cates arm. Put the blanket over Caitlyns shoulders, Dillon. Shes cold. Lets get a fire going in here, too. Im working on it, Gram. The aggrieved boy came through, but she only gave his hair a stroke as she stepped toward the table. Im Maggie Hudson, but you can call me Gram. You look like a girl in need of hot chocolate. Ive got my own secret recipe. She reached in a cupboard, took out a package of Swiss Miss, then sent Cate a wink. This is Caitlyn, Mom. She was about to tell us what happened. Can you do that, Caitlyn? We were playing hide-and-seek after the life celebration for my great-grandda, and I went to the tree beside the garage to climb it and hide, and there was a man and he stuck me with something and I woke up somewhere else. The words tumbled out as Maggie put a big mug in the microwave, as Julia dabbed ointment on the cuts, as Dillon, crouched down to light the kitchen fire, goggled. They had masks like a mean clown and a werewolf, and said theyd break my fingers if I didnt do what they said. And the clown one had a gun, and he said hed shoot me. But I didnt eat the soup or drink the milk because it tasted funny. They put drugs to make you sleep in things, bad guys do that, so I poured it down the toilet and pretended to sleep. Holy crap! Julia merely shot Dillon a look to shut him up. That was smart. Honey, did they hurt you? They knocked me down when they opened the door hard, and the bad clown pulled my hair really, really hard. But then they thought I was asleep, and one of themit was the wolfmancame in and talked on the phone. I kept pretending and fooled him. I kept the spoon from the soup, and I used it to get the nails out of the window lock. One of them drove away. I could hear them talking outside, and he drove away, and thats when I got the window open enough to get out, but it was too high to jump. The microwave went off, but Caitlyn kept looking right into Julias eyes. It seemed safe there in the gold and the green. In the kindness. I tied the sheets together. I couldnt tear them, but I tied them, and then the one came back, and I was scared because if he came in, hed see and hed break my fingers. No ones going to hurt you now, baby girl. Maggie set the hot chocolate on the table. I had to climb down, and my hands kept slipping, and there were lights on downstairs, and the sheets werent long enough so I had to jump. I hurt my ankle a little, but I ran. There were trees, a lot of trees, so I ran there and ran, and fell and hurt my knee, but I ran. I didnt know where I was. Tears rolled now, tears Julia gently wiped away. Then I heard the ocean, a little, then more. And I saw the light. You had the light on, and I followed the light, and saw the cows, and the house, and the light. But I was afraid you were bad guys, too, so I snuck in. I wanted to call nine-one-one. I stole an apple because I was hungry, and Dillon came downstairs and found me. Thats one hell of a story. Maggie put an arm around Dillon. Youre the bravest girl Ive ever met. If the bad guys find me here, theyll shoot me, and everybody. Theyre not going to come here. Julia brushed Cates hair back from her face. Do you know the house where you played hide-and-seek? My great-granddas house. He named it Sullivans Rest. Sweet girl. Maggie sat down. Are you Liam Sullivans great-granddaughter? Yes, maam. He died, and we had a celebration of his life. Did you know him? I didnt, but I admired him, his work, and his life. You drink your hot chocolate, Caitlyn. Smiling, Julia brushed back Cates disordered hair. Im going to call nine-one-one for you. Can you call my daddy, too? Can you tell him how to find me? Absolutely. Do you know the number? If not, I can I know it. Cate rattled it off. Good girl. Mom, I bet Caitlyn could use a snack. I bet she could. Dil, you sit down with Caitlyn, keep her company while I scramble up some eggs. Nothing like scrambled eggs in the middle of the night. He did. He would have just because she was a guest, and thats what you did. But he did it more because he found her seriously awesome. You made a sheet rope and climbed out of a window. I had to. Not everybody could. That is awesome. I mean, you were like kidnapped, and you outsmarted them. They thought I was stupid. I could tell. Since she didnt seem to want it, Dillon picked up the drumstick, took another bite. Youre really not. Was it like a house? I think. I was in the back, I think, and all I could really see were trees and the hills. They kept the room dark. I saw the kitchen when I climbed down. It wasnt as nice as this one, but it was nice. Its just I couldnt tell where I was, and I got all turned around in the trees, so I dont know. And I dont know how long I slept from what he had in the needle. She sounded scared still, but more tired. To give her a boost, he wagged the drumstick. I bet the copsll find the house and the bad guys. Were friends with the sheriff, and hes pretty smart. Maybe the bad guys dont even know you escaped. Maybe. He said, on the phone to somebody She frowned, tried to remember. Then Julia came over with the phone. Caitlyn, somebody wants to talk to you. Is it Daddy? Cate grabbed the phone. Daddy! The tears came again, spilling down her cheeks as Julia stroked her hair. Im all right. I got away. I ran and Im with Julia and Gram and Dillon. Will you come? Do you know where to find me? Julia leaned down, kissed the top of Cates head. Im going to tell him exactly. Grams making scrambled eggs. Im so hungry. I love you, too, Daddy. She handed the phone back to Julia, swiped at her tears. He cried. I never heard him cry before. Joyful tears. Gram put a plate with eggs and toast in front of Cate. Because his little girls safe. The little girl plowed into the eggs while Gram plated up the rest. She ate all the eggs, the toast, and had just started on the pie Julia put in front of her when someone knocked on the door. The bad guys Wouldnt knock, Julia assured her. Dont you worry. Still Cates chest hurt as if someone pressed on it when Julia walked to the front door. When Dillon took her hand, she squeezed it hard. And held her breath even though it made her chest hurt more when Julia opened the door. Then everything fell away, everything, when she heard her fathers voice. Daddy! She leaped out of the chair, ran out of the kitchen, ran to him as shed run toward the trees. He caught her, swung her up, held her tight, tight, tight. She felt him shaking, felt his scratchy whiskers on her face. Felt his tears blur with her own. Other arms went around her, folded her inwarm and safe. Grandpa. Cate. Catey. Oh, my baby. Aidan drew her back, and his eyes filled with more tears as he looked at her face. He hurt you. I fell, because it was dark. I ran away. Youre safe now. Youre safe. As Aidan stood, swaying with her, Hugh turned to Julia, gripped her hands. There arent words to thank you. He looked beyond her to where Maggie and Dillon stood watching. All of you. You dont need them. You have a smart, brave girl here. Dillon found me, and his mom fixed my cuts, and Gram made me eggs. Ms. Cooper. Aidan tried to speak, simply couldnt get words out. Julia. I put on coffee. The sheriffs on his way. I felt it best to call him, though I realize you probably want to take Caitlyn home and deal with that there. Id love some coffee. I just want to call my wife, let her and the others know we have our girl. Hugh stroked a hand down Cates hair. If its not imposing, I think talking to the sheriff here and now would be best. Theres a phone in the kitchen. Maggie stepped forward. We dont get decent cell service here. Maggie Hudson, she added and offered a hand. Ignoring the hand, Hugh embraced her. Well, this has been a day, and the suns not up. We meet the bravest girl in California, and I get a hug from Hugh Sullivan. Come on back, Hugh. Cates mother finally took a sleeping pill not long before you called, Aidan explained. Shes going to be so happy, Cate, when she wakes up and sees you. We were so scared, so worried. He lifted her bandaged arm, kissed it. Why dont you and Cate sit down, catch your breath. Ill go help with the coffee. How about some more hot chocolate, Cate? Still cuddled close to her father, she nodded. Yes, please. But even as she said it, headlights swept across the front windows. That should be the sheriff. Hes a nice man, she told Cate. Will he go after the bad men? I bet he will. Julia walked to the door, opened it, stepped out on the porch. Sheriff. Julia. Red Buckman looked more like a surfer than a cop. He may have cruised past forty to inch his way toward fifty, but when time allowed, he still grabbed his board and hit the waves. His hair, a short, sun-bleached braid, fell just over the collar of his jacket. His face, tanned and lined from his hours on the beach, on the water, often held a deceptive whatever expression. Julia knew him to be smart, sharp, and dedicated. Just as she knew he and her mother had an easygoing friends-with-benefits relationship. I dont think youve met Deputy Wilson. Michaela, this is Julia Cooper. Maam. Beside Red, the dark-skinned beauty with the honey-glazed eyes looked all spit and polish in her khaki uniform. Barely old enough to drink, Julia thought, and standing like a soldier in her high-shine shoes. Caitlyns in the living room with her father. Her grandfathers here, too. Let me ask you first. Are you sure the kid didnt just run off from home? Theres no question of that, Red. Youll see for yourself when you talk to her. Shes settled down, but that child was terrified, and shed damn well been terrorized. She wanted to call nine-one-one and her father. Okay then. Lets get to it. He went inside, his deputy a half step behind him. From Aidans lap, Cate gave him an unblinking once-over. Are you really the sheriff? Thats right. He pulled a badge out of his pocket, showed her. It says so right here. Red Buckman, he said to Aidan. Youre Caitlyns dad? Yes, Aidan Sullivan. And youre okay with us talking to her? Yes. Youre okay to talk to Sheriff Buckman, arent you, Cate? I was going to call nine-one-one, but Dillon found me before I could. So Julia did. That was the right thing. Take a seat, Mic, he told the deputywho shot him a look at the Mic but complied. Red sat on the coffee table so hed be face-to-face with Cate. How about you tell me what happened, right from the start? We had lots of people at Sullivans Rest because my great-grandda died. I heard that. Im sorry about your great-grandda. Did you know the people who were there? Mostly. After people got up to talk about him, to tell stories and everything, I got to change into play clothes, and play outside with my cousins and the kids. And after a while, we were going to play hide-and-seek. Boyd was It, and I had my hiding place picked out. She frowned at that, just an instant, then told her story. Red didnt interrupt, only stood a moment when Maggie came in with Hugh Sullivan. He took his coffee, nodded at Cate. You keep going, honey. He saw Aidans stricken face when she spoke of the threatsbroken fingers, the gunwatched the father of the child battle tears. In her chair, Michaela took meticulous notes, and watched everyone. Then I saw the light. I heard the ocean first, she corrected, then told the rest. You mustve been really scared. Everything kept shaking, even inside. I had to make it stop when I pretended to sleep or hed know. Howd you think to use the sheets to make a rope? I saw it in a movie. I thought it would be easier, but I couldnt tear them, so they were big and thick to tie. You never saw their faces. I saw the one by the tree for a second. He had a beard and he had blond hair. Would you know if you saw him again? I dont know. She cringed back against her father. Do I have to? We wont worry about that. How about names? Did they ever say a name? I dont think so. Wait On the phone, when I pretended to be asleep, he called the person he talked to lover. Thats not really a name, I guess. Do you know about how long it took for you to get here from when you climbed out of the window? She shook her head. It seemed like forever. It was dark, and it was cold, and everything hurt. I was afraid theyd find me, or maybe a bear would come and eat me. She laid her head back against Aidan. I just wanted to go home. I bet you did. How about if I talk to your dad and grandpa for a bit. Maybe Dil can show you his room. I want to hear. It happened to me. I want to hear. Shes right. When she crawled from Aidans lap to his, Hugh stroked her. It happened to her. All right then. Were going to need a list of everyone at the house. Guests, staff, outside vendors. Youll have it. When weve got that, were going to go over when people left, how they left. For right this minute, tell me when you first noticed Cate was missing. It was Nina, her nanny. Full name? Nina Torez. Shes been with us for six yearsnearly seven, he corrected. When Catey didnt come in with the other kids, Nina went to look for her. When she couldnt find her, she came to us. Everyone looked. I think it was after six, maybe close to seven, I think, when Nina came in, worried. Just before seven, Hugh put in. We spread out in groups, to look through the house, the outbuildings, outside. Nina had found Cates hair clip over by the garage. I lost my barrettes. Well get you new ones, Hugh promised. We were about to call the police, Aidan continued, when the phone rang. Which phone? The house phone. What time? About eight. Yes, close to eight. It was a mans voice. He said he had Cate, and if we called the police, the FBI, if we told anyone, hed hurt her. He said it would cost ten million, cash, to get her back, unharmed, and hed call with further instructions. Some of us still wanted to call the police. Hugh continued to stroke, then turned Cates face to his. We were so afraid for you. But my daughter-in-law was near hysterics by then, and she was adamantly against it. We decided to waitthe hardest thing Ive ever done. To arrange for the money, and wait. He kissed the top of Cates head. And pray. The second call came in about ten-thirty. He said we had until midnight tomorrowthat would be tonight now. Hed contact us again to say where to bring the money, then hed tell us where to find Cate. Aidan and I talked, and we agreed to demand we speak to Cate, to be sure She screamed. She called for me. Aidan dropped his head in his hands. Cate, you said one of the men drove away for a little while? He did. They went outside. I heard them through the window. I saw the taillights. Do you know how long he was gone? I dont know, but when he left I got the nails out of the window and started to make the sheets. And he came back before I could get out. But you got out right after. I was afraid theyd come back to the room and see I had the window open, and the sheets. So I climbed out. Youre a smart kid. Hey, Dillon, what time did you come down and find Cate? I dont know exactly. I just woke up hungry, and thought about the fried chicken. I can tell you Dillon woke me up right before one. All right then. He had the timeline in his head, got to his feet. Im going to let you take this girl home. Were going to need to talk to the nanny, and the others still at the house. Id like to do that this morning. Whenever you want. Lets say around eight? Give you all time to settle in, get a little sleep. He looked back at Cate. He had brown eyes, and put a smile in them for her. I might need to talk to you again sometime, Cate. That okay with you? Yes. Will you catch them? Thats the plan. Meanwhile, you do some thinking, and if you think of anythingany little thingyou let me know. He pulled a card out of his pocket. Thats me, and the number at my office, and the number at home. Got my email, too. You keep that. After giving her leg a pat, Red got up, eased around the table. Well be there around eight. Were going to need to look around the place, especially where Cate saw the man who took her. And well need to talk to everyone in the household. Get that list of guests and staff and so on. Well have it ready. Hugh passed Cate back to her father, got to his feet to shake Reds hand. Then he walked to Dillon, did the same. Thank you for doing everything right. Oh, thats okay. Its more than okay. Thank you all. Id like to come back again in a day or two. Anytime, Julia told him. Were just going to give you a police escort home. Red winked at Cate. No sirens, but how about we run the lights? She grinned at that. Okay. Outside, Red got behind the wheel, waited for Michaela to get in beside him. Hit the lights. He headed down the ranch road behind the fancy sedan. Weve got us an inside job, Mic. Michaela, she muttered, then blew out a breath. Yes, sir, we sure do. CHAPTER FOUR Snuggled in her fathers arms, Cate fell asleep before they reached the end of the ranch road. Shes exhausted, Aidan murmured. I want to have a doctor look her over, but She can sleep first. I can get Ben to come to the house. Hed do it for us. I was afraid I know shes only ten, but I was afraid hetheymight Reaching over, Hugh squeezed his arm. So was I. But that didnt happen, they didnt touch her that way. Shes safe now. She was close all the time. Just a few miles away. God, Dad, she was so brave, so damn clever and brave. She saved herself, thats what she did. My fearless little girl saved herself. And now Im afraid to let her out of my sight. Hugh slowed when they approached the gates securing the peninsula, waited until they opened for him. They had to have a way in and out. They couldnt have done it without the security code, or clearance. All the people coming and going today of all days. Lights bloomed along the road winding up, winding away from the sea toward the multileveled house on the rise. A house, Hugh thought, his parents had built as a sanctuary for themselves, their family. Today, on the day theyd honored his father, someone had invaded that sanctuary, despoiled it, and stolen his grandchild. The sanctuary would be his now, and he would do whatever he could do to make certain no one ever marred it again. Let me get your door, Hugh began as he pulled up, but family already streamed out of the house. While his wife, his sister, his brother-in-law rushed to the car, Hugh walked to where his mother stood, at the entrance portico. She looked so frail, so tired. He caught her face in his hands, used his thumbs to brush away tears. Shes safe, Ma. Shes sleeping. Where Ill tell you inside. Lets go inside, and let Aidan get her upstairs to bed. Our girls had a hell of a time, but shes safe, Ma, and shes not hurt. Some scrapes and bruises, nothing more. My legs are shaking. Its always after my legs start shaking. Give me a hand. He helped her inside, into her favorite winter chair by the fire, with the view of the sea beyond the wide window. When Aidan carried her in, Cates head on his shoulder, her body loose in that rag-doll way of a sleeping child, Rosemary pressed a hand to her lips. I want to put her to bed, Aidan said quietly. I need to stay with her in case she wakes up. I dont want her to be alone when she wakes up. Ill bring up some tea, some food, Maureen told him. Ill look in on Charlotte to make sure shes still asleep. If shes awake, Ill bring her right in. Let me help you get her settled, Aidan. Ill turn the bed downand Ill check on Charlotte, Mo, while you see Aidan gets some food. Lily hurried to the stairs and up ahead of Aidan. Well wait until Lily and Maureen are back, Rosemary decreed. Then I think we need to hear the story from Hugh before we try to get some sleep. Its a hell of a story. I just want to let everyone know the police are on itand theyll be here to talk to us in a few hours. So yeah, well need to try to get some sleep. While Aidan slipped off Cates sneakers, Red and Michaela drove up another steep road on the hillside. You have to figure, if she hit the field, the fence, the cows coming out of the trees, she was likely coming from south of the Cooper place. Or she got turned around, circled around, even ran down from higher up. All possible, he agreed. But up this road? Theres a high-class, two-story cabin. Not much else for another mile south, and the Cooper place about three miles north. Its worth swinging by. You know the owners, who lives there? When you work this area, it pays to know whos who. Just like I know the people who live there are in Hawaii right now. Michaela shifted in her seat, looked up the snaking road. So its unoccupied. That would be damn handy. Thats my thought on it. I dont see any outside lights on, and right theres a little buzz. Theyd have left the security light on. He slowed, silhouetting the cabin in the headlights. Looks like a light on in the back. Theres a truck under that carport on the north side. Theirs? One of them. Theyve got an SUV. Probably drove that to the airport. Keep your weapon handy, Mic. She unsnapped the safety on her holster as they got out of either side of the car. Lets do a little circle around first. The kid said they had her in a room in the back, facing the hills. And she could see taillights when he left. The way the cabins situated, the switchback down to Highway 1? Yeah, she couldve seen taillights. If this is the place, theyre likely long gone, but Red paused, looked up at the white cloth rope hanging out of the window above. Looks like this is the place. Christ on a crutch, Mic, look at what that kid pulled off. Shaking his head, he approached the back door. Unlocked. Lets clear it. Weapons drawn now, they went in the door, one heading right, the other left. She noted an open bag of DoritosCool Rancha cardboard box holding some empty beer bottles. She smelled weed in the air as she cleared a laundry room, a powder room, a kind of hobby room before she crossed with Red again in the living area. They went upstairs, cleared the front-facing master suite with its big walk-in closet, its really big en suite. A guest roomwith its own bath. A second guest room, then the last. Smallest of them, Red observed, facing the back. They arent completely stupid. And long gone. Michaela checked the windows. They took off as soon as they realized she got out. One window heres still nailed shut. She pointed to the floor. And theres the one she pried out, with the spoon. Spoons bent and scratched. She worked at it. Red holstered his weapon, looked out the window at the drop. If that kid was of legal age, Id buy her a beer. Hell, Id buy her a goddamn keg. Thats guts right there, Mic. Lets do her proud and catch these fuckers. Im on board with that. While Aidan dozed in the chair beside the bed, the sun crept through the window. And Cate tossed in her sleep, began to whimper. He woke with a jolt, struggled through the layers of fatigue that weighed down on his mind, his body. He rose quickly, sat on the side of the bed to take Cates hand, to stroke her hair. Its okay, baby, its okay now. Daddys right here. Her eyes flew open, wide and blind for a moment. On a little sob she lunged into his arms. I had a bad dream. I had a scary bad dream. Im right here. She curled into him, sniffling, snuggling. Then went stiff as she remembered. It wasnt a bad dream. The bad men Youre safe now. Right here with me. I got away. On a long, long breath, her body relaxed again. You and Grandpa came to bring me home. Thats right. He tipped her head back, kissed her nose. It broke him a little more to see the bruise on her face, the shadows under her eyes. Ill always come for my best girl. After pressing her cheek to his shoulder, she frowned. I tore my sweater. And its dirty, too. It doesnt matter. To soothe both of them he ran his hand up and down her back. I didnt want to wake you up, but since youre awake now, why dont I help you get a bath, get some clean clothes? Daddy! Genuinely horrified, she pushed back from him. You cant help me take a bath! Im a girl, and youre not. And I like showers now. So normal, he thought, and found his throat clogged with tears. So completely normal. How could I have forgotten? Tell you what, Ill go check if your moms awake. She was so scared and worried, I finally made her take a pill to sleep. Shes going to be so happy to see you. Look at this! Lily, a cashmere robe over tailored pajamas, beamed from the doorway before she went in to gather Cate in a hug. Wide awake, are you, sweets? And too big for baths and my help. Lily arched those bold red eyebrows. I would say so. I was just coming in to spell you for a bit, Aidan. Let me and our girl deal with our girl things. I ruined my sweater, G-Lil. Since Cate still wore it, Lily trailed a finger down the tear. I call that a badge of honor. Come on, sweets, lets get you cleaned up. Again, she arched her eyebrows at Aidan, put a little exaggeration on southern lady. You will excuse us, sir. Ive been dismissed. He gave Cate a big grin that fell away once he left the room. Would his little girl wake with nightmares now, and cling to him shaking from them? How much of her childhood innocence had those bastards cost his baby? And how much deeper than the cuts and bruises did the wounds go? He stepped into his own bedroom, found Charlotte still sleeping. Hed pulled the curtains over the windows himself so the rise of the sun wouldnt wake her, and found himself relieved shed taken the pill, still slept. When she woke, Cate would be showered, dressed. Here. They could celebrate that, hold that, before they talked about what to do next. A private detective if the police didnt find the kidnappers quickly? A therapist for Catefor all of them, he corrected as he walked quietly into the bath for his own shower. A reevaluation on security at their home, at Cates school, whenever they traveled. He felt sick and sorry theyd have to let Nina go. He didnt believe, not for an instant, shed been careless, deserved blame. But Charlotte wouldnt rest easy until she was let go. As he showered, as he let the pulse of hot water pummel the worst of his fatigue away, he considered the new project hed signed onto. The location shoot in Louisiana, in just two weeks. Should he back out of the film? Should he pull Cate out of school, take her and the tutor with him? Should he simply clean his plate, stay home, until he could feel certain Cate was safe, stable? When in uncharted territory, he thought, take one careful step at a time. He dressed in jeans and a sweater before he slipped back into the bedroom. No romantic long weekend in Cabo, he thought. Not now. No quick getaway without their daughter right there with them. Charlotte would say exactly the same. He left her sleeping, quietly closed the door behind him. It lifted his heart to hear a quick giggle behind Cates bedroom door, and the quick rumble of an answering laugh from his stepmother. Thank God for Lily, he thought, as he went downstairs. Thank God for family. Even thinking it, it surprised him to see his father out on the back terrace, drinking coffee, studying the hills. Aidan poured a cup for himself, went out. The breeze, whipping through the chaparral, the redwoods and pines, brought the scent of both hills and sea. Snow iced the tops of the mountains, and morning fog crept along the ground below. A little cold out here yet, Dad. I needed the air. I sometimes forget to appreciate the mountain view. Cate? Lilys with her. She woke up scared, but resilience. Did you get any sleep? Some. You? Some. Dad, I want to thank you for what you were prepared to do. Its not just the money, but You should know better than to thank me. That itll irritate you. Yeah. The smile didnt come so hard this time. But I have to anyway. Just like I have to say I love you, Dad. That doesnt irritate me. Hugh clamped a hand on Aidans shoulder. Theres nothing I wouldnt do for family. Youre the same. Im trying to figure out now what the best thing to do for family is. Im supposed to leave for New Orleans in two weeks to start on Quiet Death. Even if I brought Cate and Charlotte with meor Charlotte for part of it, as shes got Sizzle shooting in L.A. next monththe long hours Im thinking of backing out. Ah, Aidan, I hate to see you give up that role. Its a gem. I know why youre considering it, I just hate it. All of this. You know Lily and I would keep Catey with us while youre on location. I dont think I can go without her, not now. No, he thought, he knew he couldnt go without her. As much for himself as for his daughter. Charlotte worked so hard to land Sizzle, he continued. I cant ask her to give it up and base in New Orleans while I shoot. Hugh stared up at the peaks, at the way the clouds hovered over them as if theyd drop and smother them. Youre right. Id do the same in your place. Im thinking of taking six months off, maybe a year. I could take Cate to Ireland, help Nan settle in. Theyd both love that. Though it hurt his heart, Hugh nodded. His mother, his son, his precious granddaughter, an ocean away. That might be best. I want to hire a private detective if the police dont find these bastards, find them quick. I could offer a reward. Hugh turned to his son. He hadnt shaved, and more gray than black grizzled his chin and cheeks. There our thoughts align. Good. Then Im on the right track. And I want a good family therapist. Resilient or not, I think Cate needs to talk to someone. All three of us do. Aidan looked at his watch. The police will be here soon, and thats the next step. I need to wake Charlotte. When he turned, he saw Cate at the breakfast counter, her ankles hooked together as she watched Nina sift flour into a bowl. Take a look, he told his father. Squeezes my heart, Hugh murmured. In the best way. Hugh walked to the door, opened it, walked in with Aidan. Heres my girl. He stepped over to kiss the top of her head, sent a grateful look at Lily, who leaned against the big fridge with her own cup of coffee. Shed pulled Cates now shiny fall of hair into a high, bouncing ponytail, helped her pick out jeans with flowers on the pockets, and a bright blue sweater. She would have looked like any pretty ten-year-old girl, except for the bruise on her temple, the dark circles under her eyes. Ninas making pancakes. Is that so? Caitlyn asked for them, so Nina sent a pleading glance toward Aidan, one out of shadowed and tear-swollen eyes. Im all about the pancake. So hed wait just a bit longer to get Charlotte. He caught a signal from Lily before she stepped out of the kitchen. He followed her out, and into what had been his grandfathers study. Liam Sullivans Oscars and awards gleamed; framed stills from his movies, candid shots with actors, directors, Hollywood luminaries graced the walls. The wide glass doors led out to the garden hed loved. Aidan, you know I love Cate more than I love red velvet cake. He had to smile. Yes. And I know how much you love red velvet cake. Nina, she began, in her blunt way. Shed moved to the room off the kitchen because she knew Charlotte didnt want to see her. But she heard us when we came down. She just wanted to see Cate, to have a moment. Im going to say Cate was so happy to see her, and before you know it asked for pancakes. Aidan, that girl wasnt careless, she wasnt irresponsible, she I know it. At the interruption, Lily drew in a breath. Topaz eyes against her milk-pale skin managed to transmit both relief and disappointment. But youre still going to let her go. Ill try talking to Charlotte again, but I dont see her changing her mind. And the fact is, Lily, I dont think Ninas ever going to be comfortable working for us again. For Charlotte again. The southern drawl only added to the bite of the words. He adored his stepmother. And knew he couldnt claim Lily and Charlotte shared that same level of affection. Okay, yeah. Im going to do what I can to help her get another position, and give her a good severance. Ill throw my weight into getting her another job. People listen to me. Because you dont give them a choice. She poked her finger in his chest. Why would I? Then she kissed his cheek. Cates going to be all right. Some time, some love, shes going to be just fine. Im counting on it. Want some pancakes? Honey, at my age in this profession, I shouldnt be in the same room as a pancake. She tapped her own ass. But this morning Im making an exception. Aidan kept an eye on the time as she ate in the kitchen, noted Nina quietly sliding away. Im going to go wake up your mom, baby. Its going to be like Christmas morning for her, and youre the best gift under the tree. Cate smiled a little, pushed at the pancakes still on her plate. Is Nan still sleeping, too? Probably, but Ill check. Aunt Maureen and Uncle Harry are still here. And Miranda and Jack, some of the kids, too. Are we going home today? Were going to see. You remember Sheriff Buckman from last night? He needs to come talk to everybody. Putting down the fork, Cate gripped her hands together under the counter, stared at her plate. Did he catch them? I dont know, Catey, but youre safe. Are you coming right back? After you go upstairs, are you coming right back? Right back. And G-Lil and Grandpa will stay right here with you. And Nina? Ninas a little busy right now, Lily said easily. Why dont we get out one of those jigsaw puzzles you like so much that make me say all those bad words. That brought a smile. Can we do one in the living room so we can see the water, and have a fire? Great idea. Hugh stood. But I pick the puzzle. Not an easy one! Cate scooted off the stool to scramble after him. Then stopped, her eyes imploring her father. Youll come right back. Right back, Aidan promised. Time and love, Aidan, Lily reminded him as he looked after his daughter. He nodded, and walked back to the stairs, went up. In the bedroom, he opened the curtains, let the light wash through the room. He moved to the bed, sat where Charlotte lay, her hair like a luxurious tangle of that sunlight. Gently, he brushed it back from her face, kissed her. She didnt stireven without a pill she tended to sleep deepso he took her hand, kissed her fingers. Said her name. Charlotte. You need to wake up. She stirred then, and would have rolled over if he hadnt stopped her. Charlotte, wake up now. Just let me sleep for another Her eyes popped open, instantly filled with tears. Caitlyn! Already weeping, she flung herself into Aidans arms. God, God, how could I have slept when my babys gone? How could I have Charlotte. Stop. Stop. Cateys here. Shes safe. Shes right downstairs. Oh, why do you lie to me? Why do you torture me? Stop! He had to pull her back, give her a little shake to cut off the rise of hysteria. Shes downstairs, Charlotte. She got away. Shes safe, and downstairs right now. Her eyes went blank. What are you talking about? Our girl, Charlotte? Tears clogged his throat again. Our brave little girl climbed out a window. She got away, she got help. Dad and I brought her home last night after talking to the police. She was asleep by the time we got home, and you were under, so Sheshe climbed out a window? Oh my God! Did they The police, you called the police? The family who helped her did. Sheriff Buckman and his deputy will be here in about ten minutes to Theyre coming here? Did they catch them? Did they catch the men who had Caitlyn? I dont know. They wore masks. Cate didnt know where she was. It was a gift from God she found this house, this family who helped her, took care of her until we got there. Charlotte, shes downstairs. You need to get up. Oh God, oh God, IIm so groggy from the pill. Im not thinking straight. She tossed the covers aside, leaped out of bed. Since she wore only a silk nightshirt, Aidan stopped her before she could run from the room. Sweetheart, you need a robe at least. The police are coming. What do I care about He took the one laid over the foot of the bed, helped her put it on. Im shaking, Im shaking. This is all like some terrible dream. Caitlyn. Weeping again, she ran from the room, rushed down the stairs. She let out a wail when she saw Cate sitting on the floor working on a puzzle. She leaped again, fell to her knees and pulled Cate close and tight against her. Caitlyn, Cate. My Catey. My baby! I cant believe youre She cut herself off, showering kisses over Cates face. Oh, let me look at you, let me look. Oh, my darling, did they hurt you? They locked me in a room, but I got away. Oh, how could this happen? She dragged Cate to her again. When I think what might That Nina! I want her arrested! Charlotte. Even as Hugh tried to speak, Cate wiggled free, pushed away. Nina didnt do anything! You cant be mean to Nina! She was supposed to watch you, take care of you. I trusted her. Oh, Ill never forgive her. For all we know she was part of this. My sweet baby girl! Its not Ninas fault. Again, Cate pushed away from Charlottes reaching arms. You told me where to hide. You told me to play hide-and-seek and hide up in the tree where nobody would find me and Id win! Dont be silly. Before Aidan could speak, Hugh held up a hand, got slowly to his feet. When did your mother tell you where to hide, Catey? Stop badgering her! Hasnt she been through enough? Aidan, its time we took our daughter out of this house. Time we took her home. When, Caitlyn? Hugh repeated. In the morning before the celebration. While her voice shook a little, Cate kept her gaze steady on Charlottes face. She didnt look at her mother as if studying a stranger, but as if finding something shed always known. She said lets go for a walk, even before Nina got up. Early. And she said she had the best hiding place, and when she showed me, she said not to tell anybody. It was our secret, and to make hide-and-seek the last outside game. This is ridiculous. Shes confused. You come with me right now, Caitlyn. Were going upstairs to pack. Them. Pale as death, Aidan moved forward, stood between his wife and daughter. When I told you Cate was here, was safe, first It was shock, not relief. I see that now. And you said them. Did the police catch them, the men who took her. For Christs sake, Aidan, what difference does that make? And I was coming off a sleeping pill. And Her fathers voice, so cold when he spoke, had Cate shivering. Lily drew her back. Because when you took the pill, we only knew of one. One man. But it was two. It was two. How did you know that, Charlotte? I didnt! Her robe swirled around her as she turned, as she pressed a hand to her heart. How could I! Its just a figure of speech, and I was groggy and upset. Stop it. I want to go home. Something in Cates belly shook, but she stepped closer again. I couldnt remember when I talked to the police, but now I do. Lily took Cates hand. What do you remember? He said, when I pretended to be asleep, when he talked to somebody on the phone. He asked are you using the nannys phone? And how if they ever checked, shed get blamed. Caitlyns confused and God knows what they did to her when they No, Im not. Tears spilled down her cheeks, but the eyes that shed them stayed hot. I remember. You told me where to hide. You said make it the last game. And he asked if you were using the nannys phone. Because it was you. I knew it. I knew it inside, G-Lil, so I didnt want to see Mom this morning. I only wanted Daddy. You stop this nonsense right now. As Charlotte made a grab for Cate, Lily blocked her. Dont you dare touch this child. You get out of my way, you washed-up bitch. Charlottes angry shove didnt move Lily an inch. You get your fat ass out of my way or Eyes glittering, Lily pushed her face into Charlottes. Or what? You want to take a shot at me, you soulless excuse for a mother? You couldnt act your way out of a room with one door if the door stood open, and youre not acting your way out of this, you low-rent never-will-be. You go right on and take a poke at me, and youll be waking up on the floor with that nose Aidan paid for spouting blood. Stop! Throwing up his hands, Aidan pushed between them while Hugh drew Cate away. Stop this. Charlotte, Lily, I need you both to sit down. With a toss of her hair, Charlotte jabbed a finger toward Lily. Im not staying in the same house with her. Im going up to get dressed. Aidan, were leaving. He gripped her arm before she stormed out. I said sit down. Dont speak to me that way. Whats wrong with you? Sobbing, she fell against him. I cant stay here! Aidan, oh, Aidan, that woman hates me. She always has. Did you hear? Did you hear what she said to me? How can you let her insult me that way? Ive got plenty of other ways to insult you, Lily tossed out. Ive been saving em up for years. Aidan sent Lily a silent plea that had her holding up a hand, gesturing peace. Sit down, Charlotte, Aidan repeated. I will not sit in the same house, much less the same room with that woman. This isnt about Lily. This is about Caitlyn. Its about you being a part of what happened to her. You cant believe any of that. Im Caitlyns mother! Our babys upset, confused. No, Im not. Charlotte whipped her head around, struggled for a moment as Cate stared at her with those hot, streaming eyes. Were going to get you the help you need, Catey. You had a terrible ordeal. You told me where to hide. You said, Lets go for a walk before anybody gets up, and Ill show you a secret hiding place. I did not! Youre mixed up. You mustve gone for a walk with Nina, and She went with you. Rosemary, trembling a bit, stood in the wide entranceway. I saw you. Yesterday morning, I saw you and our Cate outside when I stepped out to smell the sea. Youre dreaming. Youre all conspiring against me! You Be quiet. Be quiet and sit the hell down. Sick, sick to his bones, Aidan pulled Charlotte to a chair, pushed her into it. Nan. What did you see? I saw them walking together, and I thought, how sweet, the two of them walking together so early, when the suns still rising over the hills, when its starting to glitter on the water. I almost called out, but I didnt because I wanted the two of you to have that moment to yourselves. What have you done? I havent done anything! Its just like you, she spat at Aidan. Just like you to take everyones side against me. No, he murmured. In fact, its not. He glanced toward the window as the gate signaled. That should be the sheriff. Ill open the gate. Lily walked out to the controls. If you try to get out of that chair, Aidan warned as Charlotte started to push herself up, Ill just put you back in it. If you put a hand on me She broke off, cringed back when he took a step toward her. Youve lost your mind. Covering her face with her hands, she fell back on her usual defense. Tears. CHAPTER FIVE Sit here, Catey girl. Ma, come sit with Cate. You believe me, dont you, Grandpa? I do. He gave her a hard hug before giving her butt a light pat to send her toward a sofa. Im sorry to say, I do. He went to his mother, put an arm around her as he walked her to Cate. Lily, he said when she came back, would you go ask Nina to come in, bring her phone? Dont you dare bring that liar in here. Shut up. Spill all the fake tears you want, but shut up. Ill get the door, he told Aidan. As he started for it, his sister rushed down the steps. Whats going on? We heard the shouting. It appears Charlotte had a part in Cates kidnapping. You What? He scrubbed his hands over his face. Do me a favor, see if you can get someone to put coffee together. The police may want some. Then you should get Harry, come down and listen. Ask, for now, Miranda and Jack to make sure the kids stay upstairs, or go down to the theater. Its going to be a hell of a show here, and one they shouldnt see. Hugh, why would you think shed All right, she said when he just shook his head. Ill take care of it. When Hugh opened the door, Red and Michaela were just getting out of the car. Good morning, Mr. Sullivan. Hows Caitlyn? Hugh, he said. Please, both of you, make it Hugh. Weve had some developments this morning. Cates remembered something. She remembered more details. Thats helpful. But Red studied Hughs face, saw the terrible strain, the terrible anger. Did they do more harm to her than we knew of? No, no, nothing like that. Its He had to uncurl the hands hed balled into fists at his sides. Youd better hear for yourself. Please come in. Under the soaring ceilings, in front of the panoramic view of sky and sea, Red studied the fascinating tableau. The little girl with the tear-streaked face and angry eyes sitting under the protective arm of her great-grandmother. The curvy redhead he recognized from the movies perched on the arm of the sofa to flank the girl. Like a guard on protective duty. The stunning blonde in the white silk robe weeping while her husbandbecause he recognized the blonde, toostood behind her chair. Not in comfort, but another guard. My mother, Rosemary, Hugh began, my wife, Lily. And, ah, my sister, Maureen. Coffees coming. Harrys getting dressed. One glance at Hugh had her going to the sofa, to sit at her mothers other side. United front, Red thought. With the blonde most definitely cut out. This is Sheriff Buckman and Deputy Wilson. And heres Nina, Caitlyns nanny. Get that woman out of my sight! At Charlottes explosion, Nina took a stumbling step back. Miss Lily said I needed to come in, and bring my phone. Youre fired! Do you understand the word? A small woman, barely twenty-five, shed always acquiesced to Charlotte. Had always been intimidated by her. But now Nina squared her shoulders. Then I dont have to listen to you or do what you say. Charlotteand Red thought it fascinating how quickly tears turned to temperstarted to spring up. Aidan gripped her shoulder, shoved her down again. Dont you touch me. Sheriff, you have to help me. And, Red noted, how quick tears came back. Please, please, theyre abusing me. Physically, verbally, emotionally. Please. That beautiful face with its brimming eyes turned up to Red. The hands lifted in a plea. Were here to help, he said easily. How about everybody takes a seat? Another woman rolled in a trolley. He could smell the coffee. Thanks, Susan. Maureen popped up. Ive got it from here. Susan helps my mother take care of things around here. Susan, you can go on back. Heres my husband. Harry, this is Sheriff Buckman and Deputy Wilson. You should sit down, she murmured to him. Before he did, he walked over to Cate, bent from his height of six-five to give her an exaggerated kiss. You were a sleepyhead when I saw you last night. He took a chair, stretched out his long legs. Since there was plenty of seating, Red took a chair that gave him the best angle on the blonde and the child. Mother and daughter. Because something very wrong simmered between them. How are you doing today, Cate? Im not scared anymore. And I remembered she told me where to hide. She lifted her hand, pointed that accusatory finger at her mother. Shes confused. Those monsters must have given her something thats warped her memory. She doesnt know what shes saying. I know. Cate stared straight into her mothers eyes. Charlotte looked away first. She woke me up early yesterday for a surprise, she said. She doesnt get up early unless she has a call, but she was already dressed, and she had my jacket, and my shoes. I did not! You did, too. Charlotte, Rosemary said with a sigh. I saw you. I saw them walking, out front, about a half hour after sunrise. Red held a hand up before Charlotte could interrupt again. Id like to hear what Cate has to say. I wont have you interrogating my child. I dont believe thats what Im doing. Red barely flicked Charlotte a glance before giving Cate his full attention. What Im doing is listening. Tell me what you remember, Cate. She said were going for a walk, and we did. And I was excited because it was a secret, she said. Though her voice sounded fierce, she knuckled tears from her eyes. She said she had the best hiding place, and I should play hide-and-seek as the last outside game, and use that placethe tree by the garageand no one would find me. So Id win. Yoga, Aidan murmured. God, how could I be so stupid, so blind? I woke, and you were just coming into the bedroom. You had on yoga pants, a tank, and said youd taken your mat out by the pool to do some yoga. Which is exactly what I did, or is that a crime now? Black yoga pants, Rosemary said, shutting her eyes, bringing it back. A black-and-white flowered tank. Yes. Aidan nodded. Obviously, Rosemary saw me coming back from the pool, and shes confused. Seems to be a lot of confused, Red said easily. Cate seems pretty clear on it. Shes still in shock, may still be under the influence of whatever those monsters gave her. That would be the monsters who took her to the Wenfield cabin, about three miles from here as the crow flies. He kept his eyes on Charlottes as he spoke. Maybe you figure theyre confused, too. He watched her pale, watched her fingers dig into the arms of the chair. Smelled the lie before she spoke it. Theyre criminals, liars. Theyre working with that heartless bitch. She flung a hand out at Nina. Turning my own flesh and blood against me, and for money. Id cut off my hand before Id hurt or let anyone hurt my Caitlyn. Ill take a lie detector test, Nina said to Red. Ill do anything you want. She talked to him on the phonenot Nina, Cate insisted. He asked if shed used the nannys phone, and said good. He called her lover. And his phone, when it rang, it was The Mexican Hat Dance. I know because we learned it in dance class. Ninas hand flew to her mouth, but didnt quite smother the gasp. See, shes guilty. I did nothing. Nina took out her phone as she rose, put in the code, handed it to Red. And leaning down, whispered, I have something to say, but I dont want to say it in front of Caitlyn. He nodded, shifted to smile at Lily. Maamand I want to say Ive sure enjoyed your movies over the yearsI wonder, since we all have this fine coffee, if youd take Cate back, maybe get her a drink. You want to say something you dont want me to hear. It happened to me. I should hear. She had a stubborn line between her eyebrows when they came together. He had to respect that. That may be so, honey, but I need you to give me just a couple minutes first. Id really appreciate it. Come on, sweets. Lets get us a Coke. I dont allow my child to drink carbonated sugar! Well, bless your heart. With that eyebrow arch for Charlotte, Lily took Cates hand. Guess whos not in charge today? Red waited a minute, then nodded to Nina. What do you want to say? I dont want to say it. I wish I didnt have to, and Im so sorry, Mr. Aidan. Im so sorry, but Ms. Dupont Embarrassed color flooded Ninas cheeks. Shes been having sex with Mr. Sparks. Liar! Surging up, a flurry of white silk, Charlotte slapped at Aidan when he tried to stop her. She leaped at Nina. She managed to get a swipe of nails down Ninas cheek before Michaela restrained her. Even then, she struggled, kicked back. Youre going to end up in cuffs, Red warned her in the same tone he mightve used to comment it looked like rain. Assault, and assaulting an officer. You better sit back down before you end up cooling your temper in jail. My lawyers will sue you both out of your jobs. And bury you, she told Nina. Slow, calm, Red got to his feet. Sit down. Or Ill charge you here and now, have you taken in, booked. Nina, do you want medical attention? Its all right. Im not lying. Why dont you tell me why you think Ms. Duponts having an affair with this Mr. Sparks? I dont think, I know, because I walked in on them. Im so sorry, Mr. Aidan. She said shed fire me and see Id never get another job if I said anything. Aidan, you cant believe that. Now Charlotte reached for his hand, her face filled with love and sorrow. You cant possibly believe Id be unfaithful. He pulled his hand free. Do you honestly think Id give a goddamn at this point about you having sex with your personal trainer? Do you think I give any kind of damn about you now? Oh, oh, Aidan! You can turn off the fucking tears, Charlotte. That scenes played out. Nina, why would it matter right now about Ms. Dupont and Mr. Sparks? His ringtone. Ive heard the ringtone on his phone. Its that one Cate said. The hat dance one. As if Grants the only one in the world who Shut up, Aidan snapped. He called her lover, Nina added. He called her that right in front of me. Cate and I were visiting her grandparents, and she really wanted this story shed written for school, to show them. They dont live far, so I said Id run back and get it. She was so proud of it. I thought theyMs. Dupont and Mr. Sparkswere in the gym, downstairs. I never thought about it, but just ran right upstairs. The bedroom doorsthe masterswere wide open. I heard them first. I heard them, then I saw. They were in bed together. She let out a breath. I guess I made some soundI was so shocked. When she heard me, she got up, and came right out. Naked. She told me if I said anything, I was done, and shed tell the police I tried to steal her jewelry. I didnt want to lose my job, I didnt want to leave Caitlyn. I didnt want to go to jail. I didnt say anything. Not a word, Aidan said quietly when Charlotte started to deny. Not a single word. Is there more, Nina? Im sorry, Mr. Aidan. Im sorry. After that she didnt bother to hide it so much, not from me. And he called her lover. Like, Lover, shell keep her mouth shut. Come on back to bed. Or when she had me bring a bottle of wine down to the gym, he called her that. He always called her that. Let me ask you, Nina, do you always keep your phone with you? Clasping her hands together, Nina nodded at Red. Yes, sir. Almost always. Except when I need to charge it, but I try to do that at night. And yesterday, after you realized Caitlyn was missing? I had it with me when I looked for her. Later, after Ms. Dupont blamed me for it, Miss Lily and Miss Rosemary said I should move downstairs for the night, to the room off the kitchen so Ms. Dupont didnt get more upset. I did, and I left my phone in there, on the charger when we were all waiting for the kidnapper to call back. Ms. Dupont waited with everyone, too? No, sir, she was upstairs. Lying down. I think she took a sleeping pill, and was sleeping when he called back. Okay, Nina. Maam, he said to Rosemary, is there any way to get to that bedroom, the one down here, from upstairs without going by where you all were waiting? Several ways. What were going to do is take your phone in, Nina. With your permission, since its a cell phone, we can use the computer to bring up the actual calls. He saw the slightest flicker in Michaelas eyes at the bluff, but Red always figured when you bluffedor lied outrightyou should do it with casual confidence. First thing is, if the call Cates told us about came in when you were in the room with witnesses, wed know right off it wasnt you who made it. Next, even if they didnt use names, wed run the voices on the phone through voice recognition. Since this is a kidnapping, wed get the FBI to help with that. Their equipments amazing. Playing along, playing well, Michaela nodded. Itll be a simple matter to match the voices, since we have the two men already. Yep. Mic, why dont you go upstairs with Ms. Dupont so she can get dressed. Youre not taking me to jail. Im a victim. Im a victim. You have no idea what Ive been through. I think I get the gist, but if you want to make a statement, thats just fine. Im going to record that. But Im going to read you your rights first. He took a recorder out of his pocket, turned it on, set it on the table. Thats how we do it. Calculation, thats what Red saw as he recited the Miranda. You understand all that, Ms. Dupont? Yes, of course I do. Im appealing to you for help. I made a terrible mistake, but I was being blackmailed. Is that so? I did have a fling with Grant. Another terrible mistake. I was weak, Aidan, I was lonely and foolish. Please forgive me. His face, his eyes, his voice held no emotion. Not even disgust. I dont care. Are you claiming Grant Sparks blackmailed you over the affair? It was a paparazzo. He got pictures of us. It was awful, just Lowering her head, she covered her mouth with her hand. He demanded millions, or hed publish them. I wanted to protect my marriage, my family, my little girl. All of us. I didnt know how to get the money. Staging a kidnapping was the solution? Red demanded. Grant had the idea. If we faked a kidnapping I lost my mind. I wasnt thinking straight. The stress. I knew Grant would never hurt her. Wed pay, and shed be back home quickly. It was insane, I see that now. I was insane. I was desperate. Aidan walked away from her now. Had to walk away. What was the blackmailers name? He said his name was Denby. Frank Denby. After the first time, Grant met with him. I just couldnt. I couldnt bear it. Please believe me, after Caitlyn I was terrified. I started thinking of everything that could go wrong, and Did you know where theyd taken her? Of course! Shes my daughter. I knew where she was, but And being afraid, worried something would go wrong, you didnt call it off? I couldnt! Imploring, she clutched a hand under her throat, reached out toward Red with the other. I didnt know what to do! I made that call because I needed to be sure Caitlyn was all right. They drugged her. Charlotte looked over at Aidan. It was just a little sedative, just so she wouldnt be afraid. Shed just sleep through it until They terrified her, put bruises on her face, threatened her with a gun. They werent supposed to You did this for money, for sex. She climbed out a second-story window, wandered lost in the dark, in the cold, for God knows how long. You used your own child, risked your own child over a goddamn affair. She was supposed to sleep! Its her own fault she didnt drink the milk! How did you know the drug was in the milk? Michaela asked, still taking meticulous notes. Did you tell them to use milk? II dont know! Youre confusing me. She wasnt hurt. She was supposed to sleep. When we had the money, theyd have me drop it off. That was part of it? You make the drop? Yes, and then theyd take Caitlyn to the turn onto the peninsula, leave her right there. And you, you could play the shattered, loving mother through it all. Hugh got to his feet. Youll never see that child again if I have any say. Youll never see a penny of Sullivan money. Youll never step foot in this house again. You dont have any say! Charlotte hurled at him. You cant keep me from my own daughter. Thatll be up to the courts. Charlotte Dupont, youre under arrest for child endangerment, accessory to kidnapping a minor, accessory to child abuse, accessory to extortion. Did you hear me? I was victimized, blackmailed. Well, Ive got some doubts about that. But well talk more. Right now, Deputy Wilsons going to escort you upstairs, unless you want us to take you in like you are. I want my lawyer. That would be my lawyer, Aidan corrected. Youll have to find your own. Oh, I will. Now the loathing poured free. And Im not the only one who knows how to talk to the press. Im going to ruin every one of you. What youre going to do right now is come with me. She jerked away when Michaela walked over, took her arm. Dont you touch me. Do that again, well be adding resisting arrest. Its already a long list. Charlotte rose, tossed back her hair. Fuck every one of you fucking Sullivans. Rosemary closed her eyes when Michaela escorted Charlotte upstairs. A pathetic exit line for a pathetic human being. Aidan, Im so very sorry. No, Im sorry. I loved her. I looked the other way so many times because I loved her. Because she gave me Cate. Her own child, she did this to her own child. I need some air. I just want to step outside, is that all right? Red gave him a nod. Sure. What happens now? Hugh asked as Aidan went out the front door. Now we find Grant Sparks and Frank Denby. You said you had them With a shake of his head, Hugh let out a short laugh. You lied. Well done. Its going to take some time to sort all this out. Ill probably need to talk to all of you again, and to Cate. What Ill say, right now, is its not all that likely Ms. Duponts going to make bail anytime soon. What I expect, after she settles some, and if she hires a decent lawyer, is her to work for a deal. That shell probably get. I shouldve told Mr. Hugh about Mr. Sparks. Dont you blame yourself for that, for any of it. Maureen got up, walked over to hug Nina. Come on with me. Im going to get those scratches cleaned and treated. Rabid cat scratches are nasty. Will they let me stay with Catey? Nina asked as Maureen led her out. I know my nephew. Youve got a job for life. It didnt take long for Michaela to bring a stone-faced Charlotte back down. We want to add attempted bribery of a police officer, Sheriff. She offered me ten thousand to let her go. Thats a lie! Figured it was coming. I had my phone on record. Shes cuffed as she didnt like hearing no. Lets load her up. Ill be in touch, he told the others. If any of you have any questions, you know how to reach me. When the door closed behind them, Hugh brushed his mothers shoulder. Im going to go back so Lily knows to bring Cate in. Yes, do that. Aidans going to need Cate, Cates going to need Aidan. And theyre both going to need all of us. He bent down to kiss the top of her head. Sullivans stick together. That includes you, Harry. She was never one of us. A quiet man with quiet ways, he unfolded himself from the chair to go sit by his mother-in-law. She patted his hand. You never liked her much, did you, Harry? I never liked her at all, but Aidan loved her. You cant choose family, Rosemary my own. I just got lucky with the bulk of mine. There now. He put an arm around her when Rosemary turned her face to his shoulder and finally wept. Aidan walked off the sick, walked off at least the top notes of his rage. For Cates sake, he reminded himself as he kept walking, kept breathing in the cool, salty air, for her sake he had to find his calm, find his steady. But beneath it, that rage lived, a feral animal that craved blood. He feared it would live and crave forever. And under that, even under the snarling and pacing of that beast, lay the shattered pieces of his heart. Hed loved Charlotte with all of that heart. How could he have not seen? How could he have not known the grasping, selfish, immoral woman beneath the facade? Even, he had to admit, when that facade had thinned and hed gotten glimpses, hed dismissed them. Hed loved her, trusted her. Hed made a child with her, and shed risked that child, used that child, betrayed that child. He would never forgive her for it. Hed never forgive himself. But when he went back inside, hed coated on layers of that calm and steady. Coated them thick so they couldnt cracknot even when he went in through the back and saw Cate burrowed against his father. His eyes met Hughs over Cates head. I think Cate and I need to talk. Sure you do. Hugh drew Cate back, smiled at her. Everythings going to be all right. All right can take a little time, but well get there. He gave her a last squeeze, then left them alone. How about we sit and talk in the library? Just you and me? When he held out a hand, she took it with such unquestioning trust, his heart broke just a little more. Because he wanted privacy for both of them, he took her the long way around, through the formal dining room, past the conservatory, around what they called the music room, and into the library. Its windows faced the hills, the gardens, gave glimpses of a little orchard. They, with the pale winter sun drifting in, offered a quieter view than the roll of sea. Under a coffered ceiling of mocha and cream, shelves of books, of bound scripts, lined the walls. The chestnut floor gleamed under an Aubusson carpet of elegantly faded greens and roses. He knew his grandmother sometimes sat at the antique library table shipped from Dublin to write actual letters and notes. He pulled the double pocket doors shut, guided Cate to the big leather sofa. Before he sat, he lit the fire. Then he sat beside her, took her face in his hands. Im sorry. Daddy I have to say this, then Ill listen to whatever you need to say. Im so sorry, Catey, my Cate. I didnt keep you safe, I didnt protect you. Youre everything to me, and I promise you I wont ever fail you again. You didnt. She But I did. Never again. Nothing and no one is as important to me as you. Nothing and no one ever will be. He kissed her forehead, and found saying the words to her helped settle him. I knew it was her when I was in that room. She told me where to hide. She took me there and showed me, so I knew. But only inside because Shes your mother. Why doesnt she love me? I dont know. But I do, Cate. Does does she have to live with us? No, and she wont. Ever. It carved at him again, the shaky breath of relief his little girl let out. Do we have to live where we did? I dont want to go back there anymore, and live where she did. I dont Then we wont. I think, for now, we could live with Grandpa and G-Lil. Until we find a place for just you and me. Hope, sweet and bright, lit her face. Really? He made himself smile. Sullivans stick together, right? She didnt smile back, and her voice trembled. Do I have to see her? Do I have to talk to her? Do I No. He prayed he could make that the truth. Her eyes, so blue, and now so robbed of innocence, looked into his. She let them scare me, and hurt me. And I know what lover means. She scared you, too, she hurt you, too. She doesnt love us, and I dont ever want to see her again. Shes not really my mother, because mothers dont do that. You dont have to worry about that. I dont feel sad about it, she claimed, even as tears started to roll. I dont care. I dont love her either, so I dont care. He said nothing; he understood completely. He felt exactly the same. Torn to bits, desperate not to care. So he just gathered her close, let her cry it out, cry herself to sleep. And while she slept, he sat alone with her, watching the fire. CHAPTER SIX Deputy Michaela Wilson had pursued and accepted the job in Big Sur because she wanted a change, because she wanted community. And, though she wouldnt admit it, because the man shed lived with for two years, the man she thought shed live with for the rest of her life, decided that being with a cop equaled too many complications. She, a woman who believed to the marrow in law, order, rules, procedure, in justice, could admit shed put the job ahead of their relationship more than once. But to Michaela, that was the job. Shed been an urbanite all her life, so the change of locations, of culture, of pace equaled an enormous personal challenge. Shed wanted just that. She wouldnt deny that her first few weeks had tested her. She wouldnt deny she thought of Red Buckman as Sheriff Dude. The man had a bikini-clad (well-endowed) woman riding a wave tattooed on his biceps. He often wore an earring. Not to mention the hair. All that added into the too laid back, in her opinion, too unbuttoned, andshed thoughttoo damn slow. It wasnt an easy matter for Michaela Lee Wilson to admit a mistake, especially one of judgment. But in the past eighteen hours or so, shed had to admit this one. He might look like a middle-aged surfer, but he was all cop. She got another good dose of that cop when they sat in interview with Charlotte Dupont and her high-priced lawyer. She didnt know much about Charles Anthony Scarpetti, but she knew hed flown up from L.A. in his private jet, wearing his sharp suit and Gucci shoes. And she knewbecause Red had warned herScarpetti was the type whod play to the media and pop up on Larry King. Red sat placidly while Scarpetti pontificated in his slick lawyer way about motions for dismissal, about harassment, intimidation, filing for full custody of the minor child, spousal abuse. Apparently he had a lot of rabbits in his lawyer hat. Red just let them hop around awhile. Even twenty-four hours before, that placidity would have had Michaela metaphorically pulling her hair out. Now she saw it as carefully crafted strategy. Ive got to say, Mr. Scarpetti, thats a lot, and some really fine, shiny words in there, too. If youre finished for now, Ill tell you why you and your client are going to be disappointed. Sheriff, I intend to have my client back in her home in Los Angeles, with her daughter, by this evening. I know it. I get that clear impression. Its not going to happen, and thats a disappointment for both of you. He leaned forward, but in a friendly way. I have a really strong suspicion your client hasnt been honest and forthright with you, Mr. Scarpetti. I could be wronglawyers gotta do what they gottabut having some little experience with your clients ways and means, I have to figure she served you up a whole platter of bullshit. Charles! Charlotte turned to him, managed to look beautifully indignant in her orange jumpsuit. He just patted her hand. My client is distraught Your client is an accessory to her own daughters kidnappingby her own admission. She was distraught, Scarpetti repeated. Confused, groggy from the sleeping pill her husband forced on her. Her child, also distraught, told you what her father had coached her to say. Is that so? Red shook his head as he studied Charlotte. Man, you are some number. Deputy, why dont you play back the recording on your phone, from when you took Ms. Dupont upstairs to dress. Michaela set her phone on the table, cued it up. Charlottes voice, a little breathless, but very smooth, flowed out. Police dont make much, especially women police, I imagine. In contrast, Michaelas voice hit clipped and dispassionate. Youre going to want shoes, maam. Ive got money. I can make your life easier. All you have to do is let me go. Tell them I ran out, give me ten minutes head start. Ten thousand for a ten-minute head start. Youre offering to pay me ten thousand dollars to let you escape from custody? How are you going to get me the money? Im good for it. You know who I am! Look, you can take this watch. Its Bulgari, for Christs sake. Its worth more than you pull in in ten years. Youre going to want to put on shoes, maam, or go out barefoot. Take the watch, you idiot! Ten minutes. Ill get you cash, too. Take your hands off me! Dont you dare put those things on me. You attempted to bribe a police officer, and have shown yourself to be a flight risk. Sit down. Since youre now cuffed, Ill get you some shoes. Michaela cut off the recording during the stream of curses. I bet she didnt tell you about that one. Red scratched the side of his neck. Now, before you start saying that was just a desperate plea from a desperate woman, let me save you the breath. Its bribing a police officer, period. I also have your clients confession on tapeincluding the Miranda warning before she gave it. We have BOLOs out now for her two partners, and we will apprehend them. You said you already Red just smiled when the lawyer cut Charlotte off. Had them? Red finished. You mightve gotten that impression. We will have them. You know, they were both mostly careful about wiping things down, but its hard to get everything. Especially when youre moving fast because, hey, the kid got loose, and the cops might be coming. We got prints. Were not disputing the child was abducted, Scarpetti replied. Ms. Dupont had no part in this terrible crime. I guess she didnt know where they took the kid, where they held her. She would never have been there. How could I know! I dont even know what I said on that recording of yours. I was so loopy from the pills Aidan made me take. Its not the first time hes forced me to do things. She turned her head away an instant after she let a single tear slide down her cheek. I guess you didnt know the Wenfields. The people who own the cabin. I dont know them. I dont know where the damn cabin is. I only go to Big Sur when Aidan makes me. Charles! Charlotte, you need to be quiet. Let me handle this. Doesnt know the Wenfields, has never been to the cabin. So saying that, Red considered, you wouldnt have any idea theyd be out of town, that the house would be empty. Exactly! Oh, thank God. Now Im confused. How about you, Mic? Are you confused? She kept her stony face on, but smiled a little inside. Not really. Just me then. Im confused how it is, when you dont know the Wenfields, dont know where their cabin is, how your fingerprintright index fingerended up on the light switch of the downstairs powder room. Thats a lie. I guess you got a little careless. How I see it, you checked the place out with your partners, needed to use the facilities. And just didnt think about tapping that switch. They planted it. Charles Quiet now. Michaela saw the change in his eyes. Whether or not he cared if his client was guilty or not, he cared when the evidence piled up. Your storys so full of lies and holes and shifts, its hard to keep up. But Im damn good at riding the wave. The blackmail? Its bullshit. Extortions one thing, and getting caught at its going to mean some time. But drugging and abducting a minor? Use of a deadly weapon? Thats a whole different level. A mans after a pile of money. I dont see him risking that different level by helping grab Caitlyn. Thats not his job, not his play. He had pictures! Charlotte, stop talking. Dont say another word. Shes not loopy from a sleeping pill now, and shes back to blackmail. Another shift back from her daughter being coached to accuse her. They stuck a needle in her. Laid back vanished as Red slammed a fist on the table. You picked the spot where they could grab her, and they stuck a needle in your ten-year-old daughter. For money, Michaela added. For more Bulgari watches. For love! This time, Scarpetti reached over, gripped Charlottes arm. Not another word. I need to consult with my client. Surprise, surprise. Red got to his feet, stopped the recording. Hes going to tell you the one who rolls first gets the best deal. Hes not wrong. You want a Coke, Mic? I could use a Coke. When they walked out, he signaled another deputy to take the door, then gestured to Michaela to follow him through the interview area, the bullpen area, and into his office, where he kept a cooler stocked with Cokes. He got out two, passed her one before sitting down and putting his high-top Chucks on his desk. Okay, so lets tell the states attorney its about that time. Fancy lawyers going to look for a fancy deal. How much time is she going to get? Whatever it is, its not enough, but how much do you think? Well. He scratched the side of his neck again. You got kidnapping a minor, for ransom. You got the use of drugs on the kid, the gun. Thing is she can carry on about how she didnt know about the gun, so well let that slide. And her being a parent, she can use that. But the ransom, thats going to sting even when she rolls. And she will. Theres no loyalty in her. Not a bit. Five to ten, I figure. Her lover and the other? Twenty to twenty-five, easy. Depending on how stupid they are, they could get a full life sentence. But I figure the three of them are going to throw enough shit at each other, plead it down, get the twenty to twenty-five. If we can prove who waved the gun around? That ones twenty-five to life. He took a long, long gulp of Coke. But thats the lawyers and court. Us? We gotta catch them. Shes going over, and if Sullivan has a brainand I think he doeshes already filing for full custody, for divorce, and getting himself a restraining order in the possible circumstances she makes bail. He took another swing. You did good, Mic. I didnt do that much. You did the job, and you did it good. You go on, let the states attorney know were going to play Lets Make a Deal. Michaela nodded, turned toward the door. That little girl? The medias going to swarm like flies, Sheriff. Yeah, they are. Nothing we can do there but give a statement when it comes to that, then go into no-comment mode, and stay there. She doesnt deserve whats coming next. No, Michaela thought as she went out. None of them did. Five minutes after Charlotte began to spin shaded truths, outright lies, and self-serving excuses, Scarpetti cut her off. He told her with stone-cold clarity he needed the truth, all of it, or hed walk away. Because she believed him, Charlotte spilled her guts. While she spilled, Frank Denby lounged on the bed of his motel room just south of Santa Maria, watching porn while he iced down his black eye and swollen jaw. His ribs ached like a mother, so hed driven as far as he could before calling it. Now after a pop of Percocet, some weed, some ice, he figured hed head out again in a couple hours. Sparks had kicked the shit out of him when theyd discovered the brat had gotten out. Like it was his fault. Not that he hadnt gotten a couple of shots in. Yeah, hed landed a couple. But he understood Sparks might have killed him if Sparks hadnt known he shared the blame. So the job had gone to shitall that money blownand now he, down to a few hundred cash, one stolen credit card he wasnt ready to use, what remained of the nickel bag in his duffle, had to lie low. Not that the kid could ID him, but when a job went south, so did he. Mexico felt right. Cruise on down south of the border. A little grifting, a lot of beach time. Hit the tourist spots, make a few bills. Sparks might have a sweet gig going with his personal training game and banging a movie star mark, but for himself, Denby preferred short, simple cons. He crunched into a handful of barbecue chips, sulked a little because the guy on the crappy motel TV was getting a blow job and he wasnt. He should never have let Sparks talk him into the game, but it had seemed so damn easy. And his share of the two million those rich assholes would pay? Jesus, hed live like a king in Mexico with a million bucks. And all hed had to do for it was help set up the cabin and watch the kid for a couple days. Whodve figured the brat would climb out the damn window and go poof? But the brat hadnt seen his face, or seen Sparks without a disguise, and the movie star couldnt blab unless she wanted to trade in her Armani for prison blues. Besides, the bitch was hot for Sparks. Good old Sparks knew how to string the rich ones along. He took another toke on the joint, held that sweet, sweet smoke in his lungs, then expelled it, watched it drift away and take most of his worries with it. Sun, sand, and se?oritas, he thought. Things could be worse. Then the cops broke down the door, and they were. Grant Sparks was neither as sanguine nor as stupid as his sometime partner. Hed worked on the blackmail/kidnapping game for nearly a year. Getting Denby on board had been as simple as dangling a million-dollar payoff. Denby thought small, was small, so hed swallowed that theyd split two mil without a doubt or question. Which wouldvedamn well should haveleft the brains of the game with nine million. Then hed take his payoff, spend a couple of years in Mozambiqueno extraditionliving off the fat. He knew Charlotte wasnt quite as stupid as Denbyand was a better liar. He knew how to read women, how to play them. He made his living at it. Obviously, and it pissed him off, he hadnt read the damn kid. Maybe a part of him admired how shed conned himshe had to have flushed the fucking milk. Damn smart kid. And that meant shed been awake when hed been in her room, when Charlotte had called. Hed gone over the conversationhis side of ita dozen times while he packed up. Nothing there, nothing to lead back to him, or to Denby, or to Charlotte. Except hed asked about the nannys phone. If the kid remembered that, repeated that, it might be trouble. Still, for all he knew, the kid wandered around in the dark, fell off a damn cliff. Maybe he hadnt intended to hurt hermore than necessarybut he wouldnt be sorry if shed ended up dead on the rocks. But dead or alive, he couldnt take chances. Because women, those he could read, and he knew Charlotte would screw this up. If anything went wrong, shed flip to save her own ass. Hed have done the same. Better, he thought as he packed the TAG Heuer Charlotte had given him, to play it safe. Take a little trip, get out of L.A. before they found the kidor the bodyand she fumbled it all. He had money. The personal-trainer-to-the-stars gig paid well enough. And the tips paid even better. He had a Rolex as well as the TAG, Tiffany cuff links and more gifted to him over his eighteen months running this con. Charlotte had stood out, so hed focused on her. She didnt give a crap about the kid, so the kidnapping idea had blossomed. She despised the Sullivans, had a shitpile of envy going for their statusand their money. Soaking them for millionsshed loved the idea. Thinking back, he probably hadnt needed Denby and the blackmail scheme to get her on board. It shouldve worked. He packed up his laptop, tablet, prepaid phones, took a last look around the apartment hed lived in for nearly three years. A long stretch for him, he thought, but the pickings had been good. Time to head out, head east, he decided, swing through the Midwest. Had to be plenty of rich, bored housewives, sex-starved widows, divorc?es to pluck from. He shouldered the strap of his computer case, rolled the first of his two suitcases to the door. Hed come back for the other. When he opened the door, he recognized cop in the eyes of the men, one of them with a fist raised to knock. And he thought: That fucking kid. Throughout the day, Red sent deputies out on calls, answered a couple himself. He tackled paperwork, had a burrito for lunch at his desk. Until the lawyers finished hammering out what they hammered, he didnt want to stray far. He answered his phone, listened to a colleague with the state police. Nodding, he made notes. Then hung up and called Michaela into his office. Staties just picked up Frank Denby at a motel outside Santa Maria. He was watching porn, getting high. Just another genius. Do we get him? I have to admire your straight-down-the-channel focus, Mic. Happened in our jurisdiction. Its going to be federal, so well pass him on, but the state boys will transport him up here so we can have our swing. Good. She wanted the swing. Thats fast work. Well, genius. He had a nine-mil SandW on him. What? Red reared back, blinked. Wait, hold on! I believe thats a smile I see. I believe I see the beginnings of a smile. I can smile. I do smile. Amused, she immediately sobered her face to rag on him. See? Youre a smiling fool, Mic. As we learned after Dupont started naming names, our friend Denby has another few months of parole on his previous conviction as a half-assed shakedown artist. I use artist liberally in his case. The firearms a parole violation, which just adds some cream to the coffee. He held up a finger when his phone rang. Hold on. Sheriff Buckman. Yes, sir, Detective. A fresh grin spread over his face. Well, isnt that sweet news? We sure are grateful to you for your quick work on this. Is that so? Uh-huh. Well, hard to blame him. Ill be here. And Ill inform the family. This is going to be a big load off their minds. Thats good work. They got Sparks. Wrapped right up, he agreed. Just before he carted his belongings out of his apartment in L.A. He didnt skedaddle fast enough. They didnt know we had Dupont, didnt know we had the BOLOs. The one good thing here, Mic, about the Sullivans not calling in law enforcement? No leaks. No media. You add the Coopers to that. Theyre too decent to run out and call up reporters to brag out their story. He swung his Chucks off the desk, got up. Do you want to take a ride with me out to the Sullivan enclave? I absolutely do. First, I want to say its been an education watching how you pushed this through, every step of it. Its the job, Mic. Just a few things in this life I take seriously, that I figure you have to focus in and do right. Sex, surfing, and the job. Lets go give the Sullivans the good news. The sun painted sky and sea with a symphony of color as it slid toward the horizon. Gulls wheeled and cried as the tide rolled out from the quiet strip of beach on the Sullivan peninsula, leaving bits of glittering sea glass, hunks of shells strewn on the verge of sand and foam. On the rocks, sea lions lolled. Under Lilys watchful eye, Cate collected what interested her, plunking little treasures in a pink plastic bucket. They studied the small universes in tide pools between the rocks, left footprints in damp sand, watched sandpipers scurry. All around them the land sprang abruptly, dramatically from the sea, creating the breathtaking cliffs. Waves rushed and slapped the rocky coastline, carved out whirling pools, small, stony arches, and made this small slice of beach a private haven. The kick of wind had Lily taking the scarf shed tossed on and wrapping it around her neck for more warmth. She couldnt claim a love of chilly beaches on a February evening, but anything that distracted the girl helped. For that matter, she wanted distraction herself. God knew sunset over the Pacific provided a spectacular distraction, but with the brisk air whipping, shed have preferred it from a seat by the fire with a cold, dry martini in her hand. But her girl needed the air, the movement. Regardless, now that the sun dipped closer to the sea, the light changing with the journey, they needed to start back. As she started to call it, Cate looked up at her. Such big blue eyes, Lily thought. Do you miss Miranda and Keenan and all of them when they go home? Sure I do. Especially now that Mirandas home is all the way in New York. But Im happy theyve made their own lives. It means I did a good job, I guess. She took Cates gritty-with-sand hand, began to cross the beach toward the rise of stone steps carved into the bluff. And Im going to have you and your dad around. Were going to live in your guesthouse for a while. Thats going to be fun. We can work on meeting our goal of finishing a million jigsaw puzzles. Daddy said I could write down the things I want from the other house, and I dont have to keep everything. When we get a new house, we can get new things. So its just ours. Whats first on the list? My stuffed animals. I cant leave them. He said I can pick some of them to go to Ireland, too, because were going to go and help Nan be settled. Youre going to be a big help to her. Lily saw the lights starting to glimmer, inside, along the paths, around the terraces. And tried not to think of the panic, the outright fear shed felt at the same time the day before. She gave the hand in hers a quick squeeze, just to feel it. Then that hand tightened in hers. Somebodys coming. A cars coming. Maybe she felt a flutter of fresh panic, too, but Lily only smiled. Girl, youve got ears like a bat. Theres a gate, she said in that same easy tone. Your grandpa wont let anybody in unless he knows them. Tugging her hand free, Cate ran up the stones until she could see. Its the sheriffs car! Its okay, G-Lil, its the sheriff. Was it okay? Lily wondered as she followed Cate up. Would it ever be okay again? CHAPTER SEVEN By the time Lily caught up with Catethe kid could move!Cate stood at the top sweep of the drive, waiting for the car. She put an arm around Cates shoulders, felt the trembling. Lets go inside, sweets. I want to know. Trembling or not, the words came fierce. I dont want to get sent away again. I want to know. She pulled away, marched right up to the car as it parked, blurted out the question as Red got out. Did you catch them? He gave her steady look for steady look. Theyre in police custody. Well talk about it. The sound escaping Lilys iron will was half sob, half gasp. When Cate turned to her, eyes wide and worried, she could only shake her head. Its all right. Im all right. Im just relieved. Just relieved. Lets all go inside. Its turning cold. She called out when Aidan opened the front door. Have somebody put some coffee on, will you? And for Gods sake, somebody mix me a martini. A big one. Are they in jail? Are they going to get out? Are they Slow down, tiger. I wouldnt say no to coffee, Red said to Lily. Id appreciate if we could talk to everybody at once, as we need to get back. Of course. Ill round them up. Most of us had to get back home, so its just my husband and me, Aidan and Cate, Rosemary, Nina. Youve had a long day, both of you, she added as she escorted them in. Id say everyone has. Why dont you sit down. The fires nice on a brisk evening. I think Rosemarys upstairs, and Oh, Nina, would you go up and tell Miss Rosemary the sheriff and deputy are here? Right away. Oh, Caitlyn, you need to wash the sand off your hands. Hastily Cate wiped them on her jeans. Theyre fine. Please. Before she could insist, Lily tapped her own hand in the air behind Cates back. Ill go tell Miss Rosemary, and get the coffee. Should I stay then? Id appreciate it if you would, Red told her, and nodded as Aidan came in. Sorry to intrude again. Not at all. My father will be right in. He searched Reds face. You have some news for us? I do, and I hope itll give you some peace of mind. Theyre in custody. He said they were, but didnt say how. I want to know Caitlyn Ryan. The quiet warning from her father had her straining, but silent. Can I take your coats? Were fine. Were not going to take up too much of your time. To get things rolling, Red sat, smiled at Cate. Been down to the beach, have you? I wanted to go outside. I like the beach. It happens to be my favorite place in the world. You surf? No. Now she angled her head. Do you? Every chance I get. If its cranking tomorrow, I may put on my steamer, grab my stick, and go on dawn patrol. He winked at her. Surfer talk. Intrigued, she sat on the floor, crossed her legs. Did you ever see a shark? See one? I punched one right in the face once. No, youreally? Hand to God. He swiped one over his heart then pointed his finger up. It wasnt a very big one, but I like to make him bigger every time I tell the story. Do you surf, too? she asked Michaela. No. Im going to teach her. Michaela made a sound between a laugh and a snort. No, youre not. You just wait. Hugh came in with a martini glass in one hand, a glass of whiskey in the other. My hero, Lily murmured, took the glass and the first long, slow sip. Hugh sat. Ninas finishing up the coffee. I hope youll come back, both of you, when youre not on duty so I can mix or pour you your drink of choice. Ill see we do. Red got to his feet as Rosemary came down the stairs. Im sorry to disturb you, maam. Not in the least. Rosemary took the whiskey glass from her son. Aidan, be a dear and get Hugh another glass of Jamesons. Im taking his. The sheriff said he punched a shark in the face. Rosemary nodded, sat. Im not surprised to hear that. Youre an avid surfer, arent you? Avid as they come. Small talk, he thought, kept things smooth until. Until Nina came with the coffee. Okay then. We wanted to come by, tell you that Grant Sparks and Frank Denby, suspected of kidnapping our girl here, are both in custody. The state police apprehended Denby in a motel room south of here. How did they know he was there? Red looked down at Cate. Well, Ill tell you he wasnt too smart. We did our job, and got his name How? Cate, its rude to interrupt. She glanced back at her father. How will I know if I dont ask? Theres a point to that, Red agreed. But when he hesitated, Michaela made a decision. The girl deserved to know. Ms. Dupont gave us the name when we talked to her. When we knew who we were looking for, we got some information. Like where he lived, and what kind of car he drives, and the license plate. We put out an alert to other police. And the state police spotted his car, the license plate, in the motel lot. Then he wasnt very smart. No, Michaela agreed, he wasnt. But he wasnt very smart to leave you that spoon, was he? And you were the smart one. Thats a stone fact, Red put in. As for Sparks, he was packed up to take off. Didnt move fast enough, and the police in L.A. arrested him. Both of them are being transported here, and well lock them up, well talk to them. How long will you lock them up? Well, that depends on the lawyers and the courts. Mic and me? We dont get to decide. But I can tell you with the evidence and statement and the case weve made? Its going to be a real long time. Like a year? No, honey, a lot longer. Maybe twenty years. My mother, too? More cautious here, Red looked at Aidan. Weve talked about it. Cate needs to know, we all do. Then Ill tell you. Because your mother gave us information on the two men and information on what they all did, planned to do, the states attorneythats the person in charge of trying cases like thismade an agreement with your mothers attorney. Its called a plea bargain. So they made this bargain, and for the information, they eased back on some of the charges, providing she says she did the things she did. She has to go to jail, too, for ten years. She can get out in seven if she meets the requirements, and the people in charge of that say she can. But she has to go to jail for seven years for certain. She wont like it there, Cate said, mostly to herself. She cant go shopping or to parties or auditions. I dont have to see her. She looked back at her father. Even when she can come out. No. And were divorcing her. Yes, baby, were divorcing her. She doesnt love us. Ninas not in trouble. Not a bit, Red assured her. We need to keep your phone in evidence for a while longer, Ms. Torez. I dont want it back, thank you. I really dont want it back. Caitlyn, now that youve talked to the sheriff, we should go up, get you cleaned up for dinner. Not altogether satisfied, but calculating shed gotten all she couldfor nowshe stood up. Will you tell the people who helped me? Dillon and Julia and Gram? It tells me about your character youd ask that. It tells me good things. Yeah, were going by there when we leave here. Will you tell them thank you again? Thats a promise. Were going to live in Grandpas guesthouse for a while, and were going to Ireland with Nan to stay there for a while, too. But will you tell me if youre right, and they have to go to jail for twenty years? I can do that. Thank you. You bet. Thank you, Deputy Wilson. Youre welcome. As she went out with Nina, Red heard her say, Will you stay with me while I clean up and change? Will you stay in my room? Shes afraid to be alone, Aidan said quietly. Shes always been so independent, ready to explore, or settle down on her own with a book or a project. And now shes afraid to be alone. I dont want to overstep, Mr. Sullivan, but it might be helpful if your daughter had some counseling. Yes. He nodded at Michaela. Ive already made some calls and contacts. She doesnt want to go back to our house in L.A., so as she said, well move into my fathers guesthouse. And well spend some time in Irelandget her away from any publicity for as long as possible. I know you both have work, and youve had a very long day. I dont want to keep you, but I need to ask. Will there be trials? Will Cate have to testify? Ms. Dupont pled guilty, so no trial. I cant tell you about Sparks and Denby. I will say, while theyre not all that smart, I think they may be smart enough to take a plea. Weve got enough, if they dont, to push for life without parole. Twenty years is a hell of a lot better than life. Red got to his feet. Well keep you updated. Are you heading back to L.A. soon? I think yes, I think as soon as possible. Ive got your cell. Ill reach out. Red checked his watch on the way to the car. I think we can mooch a meal at Maggies when we fill them in. Let me tell you, Mic, both those women can cook. Michaela considered it. I could eat. Are we going to hit Denby and Sparks tonight? Might as well strike while the irons hot enough to burn their asses. You up for it? Michaela settled in the passengers seat, looked back at the house, thought of the girl. Im up for this one. Both men said: Lawyer. Unsurprised, Red started the ball rolling for a public defender for Denbywho claimed he couldnt afford to hire oneand gave Sparks his call so he could contact his own. With Maggies exceptional chicken and dumplingsand a slice of Julias spice cakehappily filling his belly, he huddled with Michaela. Both agreed, of the two, Denby racked up more stupid points. Theyd take him first. Together they walked into the interview room. And though he restarted the recorder, Red held up a hand. Its going to take awhile for the court to appoint your lawyer, and awhile for him to get here. You dont have to say a word, thats your right. Were just here to let you know it might take till morning, and to give you a little information. I got nothing to say. Nobodys asking you to, just making you aware that Charlotte Duponts exchanged considerable information in exchange for a deal. First come, first servedyou know how it works, Frank. With what we got from her, and from other sources, the state intends to go for life, no parole. Thats bullshit. But hed gone sickly gray. I didnt do anything. Not asking you what you did or didnt. Are we, Mic? No, sir, the suspect has engaged his right to an attorney. Until that attorneywell, whoever the courts can scrounge upgets here, were not asking a single thing. Simply informing. I bet its Bilbo. Red let go a snickering laugh. With this guys luck I bet its Bilbo. Anyway, from what we already know, this was your operation, so youre likely to go down the hardest. Mine? Thats a crock of Now, Frank. Red held up his hand again. You dont want to say anything until you talk to yourhe rolled his eyes at Michaelalawyer when he gets here. Mic and I put in a long one today, but figure before we lock you up, get on home, we should let you know how things stand. The blonde? She rolled hard on you, Frank. And you were the one who had a gun in his possession. Then you got the blackmail. There wasnt any blackmail! That was bogus. Frank, if you keep saying stuff, were going to have to put you back in your cell without giving you the information to help you decide how to handle things when your lawyer gets here tomorrow. Screw a lawyer. There wasnt any damn blackmail. Im not going down for fucking blackmail. Look, if youve got something you want to say, something you want to tell us, you need to waive your right to an attorney. Otherwise Didnt I say screw a lawyer? His eyes darted back and forth between them, shooting out genuine fear. I waive that shit then. Blackmail, my ass. Okay, the record shows youre waiving your right to an attorney and want to talk. You showed Ms. Dupont and Mr. Sparks photographs youd taken of them in some very compromising positions. Thats right, thats right. With Sparkss camera, for Christs sake. Do you think I could afford one of those long lenses? Do you think I couldve gotten inside the walls of that big-ass estate without him setting it up? Michaela didnt miss a beat, just cast her eyes to the ceiling. Jesus, he expects us to believe Sparks set all this up? Were wasting our time on this one, Sheriff. He did! Its what he does, its his game. He hits up rich women. He hits them up for loans, big-ticket gifts, cash, whatever. Hell honeypot them for more if he figures he can squeeze them. And you know this how? Red asked. Maybe we ran a few together. Its not the first time hes tapped me for a game. Now theyve worked together. Michaela kicked back, yawned. Sparks makes good money as a PT for wealthy clients. Why would he risk that to hook up with a second-rate grifter like you? Look, bitch Now, now, Red said mildly. Language. Hes got the style, okay? Thats his gig. Sex, style, finding women who want some of both. Sometimes he wants somebody to hit the mark with photos. Thats me. You squeeze a few thousand, and you move on. A few thousand? You were hitting for ten million. Ten Everything about Denby went dark, went ugly. That son of a bitch. He said two. Wed split two. Biggest take ever. He had the woman wrapped. He saw how it was. The kid wasnt a big deal to herbut the kid was a really big deal with the father. And the father, he had the money. A hell of a lot of money. The fucking Hollywood Sullivans, right? He patted his chest. Can I get a smoke? No. Red just smiled. Keep going. He says well go for the big one, the kind you retire on. Im not kidnapping some kid, thats what I say. I mean whoa. But hes, like, he can get the blonde to set it up. If she balks, we walk. But if she bites, were in. She bit. He leaned forward. Its, like, I hit Sparks first, and he has to go to her, tell her. We meet upshe wears a wig, for Christs sake, big sunglasses. Like anybody gives a rats ass. I show the shots, she gets hystericalWhatll it take? You cant sell these. My career, the press! So I get how Sparks had it right. Its all about her, and that makes it easy. I say, like me and Sparks set up, how Ill let her know what itll take, and it wont come cheap. You didnt directly demand the ten million? No. Man, he said it was for two, so I say how I want two. They played me, he muttered, bitter. Played me for a mark, went for ten. I figured she could get two, sell some shit or whatever, but he comes to me, says she cant get it, and how he talked her into using the kid. How she jumped on it. He squirmed in his chair. Look, if I cant get a smoke, can I get a Mountain Dew or some shit? Finish it out, and well fix you up. Jesus, dont you see? He set me up. They fucking set me up. Im not going down for all this. They worked out how to get the kid. He said she had the perfect time and place because they were having the party deal for the old manthe dead oneup in Big Sur. Itll be easy and slick. She knew about the house where we could keep her, that it was going to be empty. She knew it would be because theyd be out of town and wouldnt be coming to the party deal, got it? Yeah. Enjoying himself, Red put his feet up on the table. Were following you. I didnt snatch the kid. Sparks did. The blonde set up where, and he dosed the kid, loaded her up into one of those serving cart dealswith the storage? Into a vanwe fixed it up like one of the catering dealsand just freaking drove away with her inside the damn van. How did the blonde set up where? Michaela asked him. How the hell do I know? The two of them huddled about the details, right? Im just supposed to get the room ready, get it, you know, secure, load in some supplies. Im just babysitting, get it? Did those supplies include masks? He squirmed again. We dont want her to see our faces, right? Better all around. And I bought those damn masks out of my own pocket. Same with the food and stuff. Im supposed to get paid back for it out of the take. Looks like a bad investment for you, Red commented. Then again, you did a lousy job at babysitting. Whos gonna expect the kid to climb out the window? Makes a rope out of frigging sheets. Uses a damn spoon like a crowbar to pull the nails out of the window lock. Who expects that? Sparks beat the shit out of me like its my fault. He leaned forward. What Im saying is Sparks came up with the whole game, hes the one who brought the blonde in, and got plenty of sex out of it. The two of them worked out the detailsand were goddamn cheating me all along. All I did was watch the kid. You were practically an innocent bystander. Denby pointed at Michaela as sarcasm sailed over his head like a kite in a summer breeze. Damn right. Okay, Frank. Red shoved a notebook and pen across the table. Write it out, and dont spare the details. Well see about that Mountain Dew. By the time theyd finished with Denbybecause he didnt spare the detailsRed wanted a beer and a bed, in that order. But he calculated the timing, and the fact Scarpetti loved playing the media like a fiddle. He didnt know Mark Rozwell, the lawyer Sparks pulled inand who was even now consulting with him. But he had to figure more media playing. The more they nailed down before the morning news, the better. Once again he dug into his supply of Cokes when he called Michaela into his office. Youre racking up the OT, Mic, and Im going to ask if youre up for more. I can handle it. I believe you can. He tossed her the Coke. We have to figure Scarpettis going to call a press conference in the morning, do what he can to put Dupont in the light of a victim. The only reason I give two shits about that is itll release the fucking kraken on the Sullivans, that little girl. So we get all we can get from Sparks, like we did from Denby, so he cant play into that before we do. Thats the way. Do you think Dupont was in on the whole thing? Im fifty-fifty there. Ill weigh that again once we talk to Sparks. Right now, Im going to do a run on his lawyer to give us a sense of what weve got here. I already did. He sat, tipped back in his chair. Youre an eager, enterprising soul, Mic. Just a cop. I Googled him, too, just to fill it out. California native, forty-six, married, one kid and one on the way. Did his law thing at Berkeley. Hes worked at Kohash and Milford for ten years, and made full partner three years ago. Hes a high-priced trial lawyer with a solid rep. She took a long swallow of Coke. Hes a good-looking guy, and the camera loves him. Hes not afraid of talking to the press. Hes also written a couple of legal thrillers, but it doesnt look like John Grisham has to look over his shoulder. And Sparks is his personal trainer. There it is. There it is, she agreed. No criminal on the run. Has a house in Holmby Hills, a beach house in Oceanside. He drives a Lexus, as does his wifeshes a freelance script doctor. Red waited a beat. Thats it? You didnt get his shoe size, his political affiliation? Registered Independent. Id have to dig a little more for the shoe size. He laughed. Okay, I see we play this cards on the table. The mans got a rep, doesnt sound like an idiot, and has a law firms rep to uphold. The guys his trainer, not his brother, not his best pal. Weve got him cold. You want to lay groundwork for a plea deal. I want that son of a bitch to live the rest of his life in San fucking Quentin, Mic. Thats my personal want. And I have to hope I dont get it, because the idea of putting that kidand the family, but that kidthrough a trial just makes me sick. Because her thoughts, her wants, ran the same, Michaela nodded. I hate thinking hell walk out one day, that all three of them will. But I feel the same as you do on this. Even so, its not up to us. States attorney will take twenty to twenty-five. Well see if they do. Our job is to lay it out, make sure the lawyer understands the preponderance of evidence, and Sparks knows in his guts hell face life, no parole. Got it. Ill ask the lawyer if theyre ready to talk to us. It took another twenty minutes, but Rozwell agreed to the interview. Since it wasnt Reds first day at the beach, he figured Rozwell assumed theyd all do a first pass, gauge the opposition, and restart in the morning. Michaela had it right about Rozwella good-looking guy with a five-hundred-dollar haircut that allowed just a hint of silver at the temples, just a few strands of it through his dark brown hair. Dark brown eyes, smart, savvy. Clean-cut and handsome with a trim body. But he paled against Sparks and his movie star gloss. Even a few hours in a cell, even the orange jumpsuit didnt dull it. Gilded sun-streaked hair with just a hint of curl fell thick around a golden tanned face with carved featuresthe cheekbones, the heavy-lidded brown eyes, the full mouth. And all that on top of a sleek, muscular build. He played itbecause in Reds estimation of Sparks and his type, everything was a role to playnervous, anxious, with no anger and just a hint of remorse and sorrow. Red sat, turned on the recorder, read the necessaries in. Sheriff, Deputy, first, I appreciate you meeting with us tonight. I understand youve put in a very long day. Rozwells face stayed sober, his voice smooth. At this time Id like to inform you that I intend to file a motion for dismissal in the morning on a number of the charges made against my client. While my client is appalled at the part he inadvertently played in these events, any minor participation came at the behest and request of the minor childs mother, and with the belief said minor child was being abused by her father. As he was unaware of Ms. Duponts scheme to extort from the Sullivan family Sorry, can I just stop you there? He kept all the affable, just a county sheriff in his voice. No point in wasting your time. Long day for you, too. So let me put some of that to rest. We have Charlotte Duponts written statement, Frank Denbys written statement. He smiled at Sparks as he said it. Red had been very careful to keep those arrests, interviews, deals under his hat. Theres direct corroboration in those statements, and evidence in hand supports that. As does the statement of the minor child. Its Mr. Sparkss contention that Ms. Dupont and Mr. Denby worked together on this scheme, duping him. Did they dupe you into sticking a needle full of propofol into that little girls throat? I didnt Cut it. You wore a wigwhich we recoveredand sunglasses, but Caitlyn has eyes. Good ones. And ears. You spoke to her before you jabbed her, and you spoke to her behind the wolfman maskalso recoveredyou used to scare a ten-year-old girl. You jabbed her, stuffed her into a serving trolley, then drove away from a good mans memorial, from an already grieving family. Sheriff, a child under such duress would hardly be able to, without a reasonable doubt, identify voices in this way. Michaela let out a laugh. You havent met this child. Put her under oath, in a courtroom, I can promise you a jury will hang on her every word. The word of a child whose own mother plotted with her lover to use her, to drug her, to terrify her. For money. Your voice is on the phone, too, Sparks, demanding ten million dollars in exchange. They didnt call the police, but they recorded the calls. Your partners rolled and rolled hard. Denbys pretty steamed you made the deal with him for two millionfifty-fiftywhen you asked the Sullivans for ten. That opened him up like a steamed clam. And if you actually think a woman whod bang her personal trainer in the same bed she shares with her husband, a woman whod trade her own daughters sense of safety, allow that child to be drugged and terrorized, has any sense of loyalty, youre an idiot. He shifted to Rozwell. Im laying this out for you because Im tired, Im disgusted, and Ive used up my tolerance for bullshit today. Both Dupont and Denby have taken a deal. Your clients last in line, and I figure everybody in this room knows the last in line gets shit. Maybe this fuck gave you a sob story, played the horrified dupe, and how sorry he is about the poor kid caught in the middle, but we have evidence that blows all of that aside. To sum it up, your dickbag of a client spotted Dupont for a mark, the last in a long line of wealthy women he bled for money. We have names, and will get statements to corroborate that. With Dupont, he saw a big-ass payday, enough to retire in style, starting with Mozambique. Layering it on, Red sent Sparks a pitying look. You had a bunch of searches on Mozambiqueno extradition treatyon your laptop, asshole. He hooked up with his sometime partner, Frank Denby, to run the con. Blackmailpictures taken with his camera, also now in evidenceof his mark and himself inwhats that phrase?in flagrante delicto. Said mark, being the worst shit of a mother in the history of mothers, agreed to the kidnapping for ransomSparks and Dupont boosted the price to screw Denby. She set up the kid, told her where to go for a goddamn game of hide-and-seek, where Sparks was waiting with the needle, the trolley, the van. As if revoltednot a stretchRed rose, turned away. Pick it up, Deputy. I need a minute to settle my stomach. She did, and seamlessly, snapping out the rest, or at least the high points. Rozwells face showed little. Red figured hed handle a poker game as well as he did a courtroom. But everybody had a tell. He had to look for Rozwells, but he caught it. Just the slightest tightening at the corner of the mouth, a muscle twitch that brought out a tiny dimple. When Michaela finished, Red sat again. There isnt a judge in the world whos going to dismiss a single one of the charges. There isnt a jury in the world thats going to look at that sweet little girl and not convict. And your client gets life without parole. He glanced at Sparks. Keep playing the game, and thats your grand fucking prize. I did it for love! Sparks filled his outburst with grief. Jesus, Red muttered. Same coin, same mold. Charlotte swore she Be quiet, Grant. Mark, you have to believe me. You know me. I would never I said be quiet. This time Red heard more than a hint of weariness. Ill need a few moments with my client. Take it. I need some air anyway. When he went out, Red realized he actually did. Im going to step outside and breathe a minute, Mic. Do you think hes going to bail? The lawyer? Id say hes considering it. Give me a holler when theyre ready. Outside, he looked up at the sky, found himself grateful the night was filled with stars. He might wish he still had the energy left to sneak into Maggies bed for a late-night booty call, but since he didnt have the stores left, a star-strewn night sky would have to do. It calmed him, reminded him life offered a whole bounty of good things from the simple to the amazing. You just had to take a few minutes now and then to find them. He heard the door open behind him. Be right there, Mic. Sheriff, your deputys taking Mr. Sparks back to his cell for the night. Red nodded at Rozwell. All right then. Ill need another few minutes with him in the morning, and would like to meet with the prosecutor. I can arrange that. Lets say nine oclock. Thats fine. Ill be here. I wonder if you could recommend a hotel, motel, just a decent place to spend the night. I didnt have time to make arrangements. Sure can. Come back to my office. Ill give you a couple close byif youre looking for close. Close would be great. You can call from here, make sure theyve got a room for you. In his office, he scribbled names on a pad. The top one? Good beds, good service, and twenty-four-hour room service if you need it. They charge for Wi-Fi though, which burns my ass. Thanks. Go ahead, use the room. Red walked out, waited for Michaela, and considered he probably had the energy for that cold beer before bed. And a hot shower. Christ, he wanted the shower more than the beer. Rozwell walked out. All set? Yeah, thanks. Ill be here at nine. I left my cell phone number on your pad if you need to reach me. He started for the door, turned, looked Red in the eye. I have a daughter. Shes only four. I have a little girl of my own. And when he walked out, Red knew theyd deal. Michaela walked backstill spit and polish, he thought. And had to admire it. You settle him in? He tried tears on me. Slow, soulful ones. Hes good. Were better. Rozwell wants to meet with the prosecutor in the morning. Im going to contact him on my way home. You can take tomorrow off. Id like to see it through. Be here by nine then. Ill walk you out. Well walk each other out. Works for me. CHAPTER EIGHT Dillon liked mucking out the stalls. He loved the romantic smell of horseseven mixed with horse-shit bedding. Every clear memory of his life involved the ranch, and his favorite ones included horses. His favorite of favorites was the night he, his mom, and Gram watched Diva deliver her first foal. Some of it had been kind of yuck, but mostly just cool. Theyd even let him name the foal, a pretty bay with four white socks and a crooked white blaze. Hed called her Comet, because the blaze looked like a comet trail. Sort of. And even though hed only been six, theyd let him groom her and work with her on the lead line when she got old enough. Hed been the first to stretch his body over her back to get her used to weight. The first to ease a saddle on her, the first to ride her. Hed helped train others sinceand thought he was pretty good at it. But Comet was his. And hed been by her side when shed had her first foal the previous spring. He just liked being a rancheran agricultural rancher, because they planted and grew and harvested and sold vegetables, had an orchard of fruit trees, even Grams vineyard, though she mostly made wine for herself and friends. He didnt mind all the chores (in fact, he liked chores a lot better than school). The planting and hoeing, feeding and watering stock, even making hay when the sun beat down, or helping run their stall at the farmers market. He liked living up high on the cliff, seeing the ocean every day, or walking the fieldseven better, riding over the fields, into the woods. Winter Saturdays meant a lot of chores he handled by himself, or with his mom giving him a hand where she could. Inside the house, Gram and his mom would be bakingbread and pies and cakes for the cooperative. From Friday morning into Saturday the house smelled really, really good. Sometimes Gram made candles, too, from soy and put smelly stuff in them. She was teaching him how, just like they were teaching him how to bake bread and all that. Hed rather feed the pigs and chickens, watch them scramble around, haul the feed to the troughs for the beef cattle, milk the nanny goats. And muck out stalls. Hed finished most of the morning routine before elevenreal ranchers, Dillon knew, started earlyand hauled the last wheelbarrow from the stalls to the dung pile. He heard the car coming up the ranch road, looked up at the sky to gauge the time. His good pals Leo and Dave were coming over to hang, but not until the afternoon. So too early for them. He rolled the empty wheelbarrow back to the barn, stowed it, and, slapping his work gloves on his pants to clean them, wandered over to see who was coming. In the way of boys, he recognized the shining silver vehicle as a BMWa fanCEE SUV. He just didnt know anybody who drove one. Seeing as he was the man of the house, he waitedlegs spread, thumbs hooked in his front pockets. And when he saw Hugh Sullivan get out, he walked the rest of the way over to say hello. Hi, Mr. Sullivan. Dillon. In a way that made Dillon feel very much man of the house, Hugh offered his hand to shake before he just looked around. I didnt really take all this in when we were here. So much worry, and it was dark. You have a very beautiful place. Thanks. Hugh gestured at the work gloves now flopping in Dillons back pocket. And I can see you work hard to tend it. I realize you must have a great deal more work to do, but I wonder if I could take a few minutes of your time, speak to you, your mother, your grandmother. Sure. Im mostly finished with the morning chores. Mom and Gram are inside baking. They bake most of Friday for the co-op, but theres a special thing tomorrow, so theyre baking more today. Maybe he thought it was too bad Cate hadnt come, but he didnt say anything. Ah, the sheriff came over the other day to tell us they caught the guys who kidnapped Cate. That they were in prison and everything already. Im glad, he said as he walked Hugh to the door. The man who killed my dads in prison. Hugh pulled up short, looked back down at the boy. Im so sorry about your dad, Dillon. I didnt know. I was really little, so I dont remember him. But he was a hero. After swiping his boots hard on the mat, Dillon opened the door. He remembered his manners. I can hang up your coat. Id appreciate it. As Dillon took it, Hugh drew in a deep breath. It smells like heaven should. Dillon grinned. It gets even better in the kitchen. Since youre here, theyre going to ask if you want some pie or cookies or something. If you dont say no, I get some, too. Charmed, Hugh put a hand on Dillons shoulder. I wont say no. He led him back, through the scents of fresh bread, rising dough, baked fruit, and sugar to where the women, in their big aprons, worked a kind of production line. Pies, loaves of bread, four unfrosted cakes, cookies spread out on cooling racks on a long counter. He saw a number of white bakery boxes with the Horizon Ranch label hiding their treasures on the dining room table. A big stand mixer whirled some sort of batter while Juliaher hair bundled up in a small cooks cappulled another tray of cookies from the oven. At the island, Maggie cranked some sort of device to peel and core apples for the pie crusts already waiting. Music pumped out of a boom box, shaking the redolent air with rock and roll. Hugh thought the women were as graceful as ballerinas, as strong as lumberjacks, as focused as scientists. Mom! Mr. Sullivans here. What? Have you finished with Oh. Spotting Hugh, Julia set down the tray, dusted her hands on her apron. After tapping her mothers shoulder, she switched off the music. Sorry, she began, for the chaos. Its not. Its amazing. I apologize for interrupting. I could use a quick break. Maggie rolled her shoulders. Dillon, why dont you take Hugh into the living room? I wonder if I could just sit in here? Hugh closed his eyes, drew an exaggerated breath. And get drunk on the scents. Sit right down wherever you like. Julia switched off the mixer. Dillon, dont touch a thing. Go wash your hands. I know the rules. He rolled his eyes, walked out, because one of the rules meant he couldnt wash hands after chores in the kitchen on a baking day. Im going to speak my mind, Maggie decided, and tell you you look worn out, tired out. Im not going to offer you coffee because sometimes what a body needs is a good herbal tea. I have just the thing. Grateful, he sat at the table crowded with their baking tools while Maggie put on a kettle. And smiled when Julia put an assortment of cookies on a plate. Thanks cant possibly cover it. Yes, they can, Julia told him. Were all so relieved the people responsible are in prison. Hows Caitlyn? She Hed planned to say she was doing well, but the worry, the stress simply spilled out. She has nightmares, and shes afraid to be alone. Aidan, my son, hes going to take her to a therapist, a specialist, someone she can talk to. He paused when Dillon rushed back in. He said he wanted to talk to all of us. And I do. Maybe you can sit here with me, help me with these cookies. Go ahead, Dillon. As she spoke, Julia got a jug out of the fridge, poured a glass of goats milk for her son. My wifeLilyshe wanted me to add her thanks. She would have come with me, but she went with Aidan and Cate back to L.A. Theyre going to stay in our guesthouse for now. Cate didnt want to go back to their house. Because her mother lived there. Dillon, Julia murmured. No, hes right. Thats exactly right. My mother left for Ireland this morning. The house here it feels too big for her without my father. Too full of memories of him that, right now, make her sad. Aidans going to take our Catey there, away from all this. We all think itll be good for her, and she wants to go. Youll miss them. Yes. My mothers turned the house here over to me. I hope Lily and I can spend more time here, but we have caretakers, the couple whove worked for my parents for many years, wholl look after the place while were in L.A. or working. Maggie set a cup in front of him. See that you drink that. I will. I wanted to ask if when we are here, if youd come, have dinner with us. Of course. Youre alone here tonight? Julia asked him. I have some things to deal with before I leave. Tomorrow afternoon. Then youll have dinner with us tonight. Reds already coming, so were putting a pot roast on as soon as the bakings done. I would Thank you. Id love to come to dinner. To compose himself, he lifted the tea, sipped. This is good, and interesting. What is it? Basil and honey, Maggie told him. Holy basil its called, with honey from our own bees. It helps with stress and fatigue. I want to say youre both amazing women who are, clearly, raising an amazing young man. I speak for my entire familyand we are manywhen I say we are forever in your debt. Theres no debt, Julia began, but Hugh grabbed her hand and stopped her. She is the world to me. I adore the children Lily brought into my life, and love them like my own. But Caitlyn is the only child of my only child. My first wife died, he said to Dillon. Im sorry. Her middle name was Caitlyn, and I see her in Cateys eyes, in the way she moves. She is the world to me. I want you to allow me to give you more than gratitude. I know theres no price for what you, all of you, did for Cate, but Im asking you to allow me to give you some tangible repayment for what can never be repaid. Your hearts in the right place. Maggie took a bowl, poured the mix in it over the apples. We couldnt take money for doing what was right for a frightened child. The world to me, Hugh repeated. Reading the emotion, the need, the pain, Julia made a decision. Dillon, did you finish your chores? He stuffed the second half of a cookie in his mouth before it was too late. Almost. Since youve bolted your share of those cookies, finish the almost. But He caught the look in his mothers eyes, the one that said: Argue with me, pay the price. He dragged himself to his feet. I guess Ill see you for dinner, Mr. Sullivan. Hugh, and, yes, you will. He waited until the boy went out the back. You thought of something youll accept. That depends. We had a dog. Dillon loved Daisy so much. She went everywhere he wentexcept school, and if they couldve figured out how to manage it, shed have been under his desk. We, my husband and I, got her before he was born, so he had her all his life. She died two months ago. Her voice broke. Im not over it. But grieving time has to end, and Ive seen when Dillon has computer time, hes been looking at dogs. Hes ready. Maggie lifted her apron, used the hem to wipe at her eyes. I loved that damn dog. Ill get him any kind of dog he wants. Theres a woman I know who helps with rescues and fostering. Ive been thinking of this for a couple of weeks, but couldnt make myself pull the trigger. Because this is the trigger, Maggie put in, and rubbed a hand on Julias back. It feels that way. Shes just this side of Monterey, so not far. I can call her if you want to take Dillon and go see. Yes. If this is what youll accept, this is what Ill do. One favor. Dont tell him where youre going. I think the surprise is part of the gift. Its a gift, not payment. A gift. Rising, he took Julias hand, kissed it. Thank you. The next thing Dillon knew, his mom made him wash upagainso he could help Hugh with an errand. Um, Leo and Dave are coming over in a couple hours. Youll be back by then, and if not, well keep them entertained. She made him put on his school jacket instead of his work jacketlike anybody cared. Still, he didnt think hed mind a ride in the fancy car. I appreciate this, Dillon. Its okay. After hooking his seat belt, Dillon brushed his fingertips over the leather seat. Smooooth. This is a really nice car. I like it. Here, you can navigate. He handed Dillon the directions Julia had written out. Thats Moms writing. Yes, shes helping me, too. So tell me, Dillon, he continued before the boy could ask with what, what do you want to do, to be, when youre grown-up? A rancher, just like now. Its the best. You get to work with animals, especially the horses. And you plant things. It must be a lot of work. Yeah, but its still awesome. We get some help in the spring and summer when we need it, but mostly its just me and Mom and Gram. Youre going to turn left at the end of our road, head toward Monterey. Got it. You said especially the horses. Do you ride? Sure. Thats the best. But I know how to train them. I saw that movie you were in where you were a rancher, but you used to be a gunfighter. Ah. Into Redemption. Yeah, thats it. You need to turn left again on that road coming up. You really rode good. Mom let me rent the DVD of this movie you made with Cate and your son, and I guess your dad. We watched it last night because its not a school night. You all used accents, even she did. It was weird. Hugh laughed, made the turn. I meant it was weird for me, I guess, because after a while I kind of forgot who she was, and you and her dad, because it seemed like you were the people in the movie. Its the next left. Slowing, Hugh gave Dillon a long look. Youve just given me and my son, my granddaughter, my own father the highest of compliments. It felt good to know he had, even if he didnt quite understand how. Is it fun, being a movie star? Not always, but its awesome being an actor. Dillon wasnt sure what the difference was, but it seemed rude to ask. His mom hated rude. Mom says its the blue house on the left with the big garage. Looks like were here then. Hugh pulled into the drive behind a van, a truck. I appreciate you coming with me. Its okay. Mom or Gram would have remembered to make me clean my room otherwise. Clever boy, Hugh murmured as they got out. Outside the blue ranch house on the short front lawn sat a Big Wheel. A birdhouse hung from the corner eave, and in the front window sat an enormous tabby cat who looked bored at the idea of company. When Hugh knocked, a din of barking erupted from inside. In the window, the cat yawned. The door opened almost immediately. Dillon saw a woman older than his mother, younger than his grandmother, with short brown hair and really red lips and really pink cheeks. She pressed a hand to her heart over a shirt with lots of color that looked too fancy for Saturday morning to him. She saidpretty much squeakedOh, Hugh Sullivan! I just cant believeIm so Come in, come in. Im Lori Greenspan. Im just honored. Hugh said polite stuff, taking her hand, but Dillon didnt pay any real attention. Because he got the movie star thing now. People, or some people anyway, got crazy eyes for movie stars. He guessed acting was just a really cool job. And youre Julias boy. Yes, maam. You come right on in. I hope youll excuse the mess, she said, giving Hugh the crazy eyes again. I was just doing my Saturday cleaning when you called. Not in that shirt, Dillon thought. Your homes just charming, and we appreciate you letting us drop in on your busy day. Her already pink cheeks pinked up more at Hughs compliment. Im never too busy for She seemed to catch herself, gave Dillon a quick look. For good company. Please have a seat. Ill just be a moment. When she scurried out, Dillon looked up at Hugh. Do lots of people do that when they meet you? Do what? Dillon did his best imitation of crazy eyes, adding rapid head shakes for impact. With a rolling laugh, Hugh gave Dillon a friendly punch on the shoulder. It happens. Do you ever He broke off when a couple of puppies, yipping deliriously, raced into the room. Hugh watched the boys face light up as he dropped into a crouch. The pups licked everywhere, paws scrambling as they tried to climb on the boy. Just as delighted, the boy stroked and petted everywhere at once. Love at first sight, Hugh thought, personified. Arent they sweet? Yes, maam. Dillons laugh wound in, around, through the words as the pups leaped, licked, tumbled. Whatre their names? They dont have any yet. Ive been calling them Girl and Boy so I dont get too attached. You see, we foster animalsmostly dogs and cats, but you never know. Sometimes theyre abandoned or mistreated, and we help take care of them until they find their forever home. These two were part of a litter of six. The poor mama was trying to take care of them as best she could. They were all living in a drainage ditch, poor things. You do kind and caring work, Lori. I just cant stand to see animals mistreated. Anyone mistreated, of course, but were supposed to be stewards, caretakers for puppies like these, and their mama. Is she okay? Dillon asked. Their mother? The look Lori gave Dillon showed her heart, and made him forgive the crazy eyes. She is. My husband took her to the vet today to have her neutered. We needed to wean her puppies first, and give her time to get good and healthy again. Weve decided to call her Angel, because she has such loving eyes. Were going to be her forever home. But you cant keep the puppies? Lori smiled down at Dillon. If I had my way, and had the room, the wherewithal, Id keep every single rescue. But I think its a good thing to share them. We already placed her other puppies with good homes. She glanced at Hugh, got the nod. These sweethearts have a whole lot of energy. As best we can tell, Angels got some border collie, some beagle in her. So taking after her, theyre good with people, love herding and running and playing. They need somebody who can keep up with them, so I was hoping youd take one of these home with you, be one of those good homes. Oh! Dillons face lit again, then he lowered his head, nuzzled puppies. My mom Said yes, Hugh finished. His head popped back up, with all that light shining on his face. Really? Really? Holy cow! I can have one? I can just but how do I pick? Hugh crouched down, got his share of puppy love. Theyre both great-looking puppies. They both have a lot of border collie in the look, Lori commented. Girl has more brown on her face, but they both have pretty markings, that mix of black and brown and white. And the fluffy tails, floppy ears. And they both, I swear, have their mamas eyes. Maybe youre leaning more to a boy dog, or a girl dog. Dillon only shook his head. But theyre family, and friends, too. You can see how they play together and, you know, kiss each other and stuff. If I pick one, the other gets left behind. It doesnt seem right to, you know, separate a brother and sister. It doesnt seem fair. Dillon shot Hugh a look, a quick one before he buried his face in puppies again. But in that instant it filled with one heartfelt plea. Blowing out a breath, Hugh stood. I need to make a call. If youd excuse me for just a minute. You go right ahead. Lori sat on the edge of a chair as Hugh stepped out. I can see whichever one you take home, youre going to take good care, be a real friend. That means a lot to me. Its hard to give them to other people? Well, not so much when you know its the right person. Then it makes you feel good inside. Thats how I feel now, knowing one of these sweeties is going to have a boy who loves and tends and takes real responsibility. Wont the other one feel sad? Im going to do everything to keep the one who stays with me happy and healthy until we find just the right person, just the right forever home. Torn between his desperate wish for a puppy and the genuine guilt at leaving one behind, Dillon could only stroke soft fur. Hugh stepped back in. Youre a fortunate boy, Dillon, to have such a wise and loving mother. With your approval, Lori, Dillon has permission to adopt both. Both? I can have both? Face shining, Dillon did his best to hug both puppies. They can both come home with me? If Ms. Greenspan agrees. Please? Arms full, heart in his eyes, Dillon turned his face up to Loris. Ill take good care of them. We have lots of land for them to run on. When Im in school, Mom and Gram will look after them, but before and after, they can come with me while I do my chores. Ill feed them and make sure they have fresh water. I know how. I think the two of them already picked you. You know these are smart dogs, about as smart as they come. Youre going to be able to teach them lots of tricks. Its okay? I can have them? Forgetting her careful makeup, Lori dabbed at her eyes. You already do. I have a list of things you have to promise to do. Theyre up on their shots, but when they need more, you have to see to that. Youve got a good vetyour mom told me who you use. I use the same, so I know shes a good vet. When theyre old enough, you have to promise to take them to the vet and get them spayed and neutered. Thats really important. And Im going to warn you, while theyre just about housebroken, taking them to a new home usually sets that back. Youll have to do some work there. I will. I promise. All right then, Im going to get that list, and you can sign it. And I have a brochure to help you with tips on care and feeding and training. I always give my adopted humans a little care packageof treats and toys. And Im sorry to say Im going to need fifty dollars. Thats to cover some of the expense from foster care. I dont have any money with me, but Ive got allowance saved up. I can bring it to you as soon Dillon, this is my gift. My thank-you gift to you. Torn all over again, Dillon had to shake his head. Mom said That this gift was acceptable, Hugh finished. It would mean a great deal to me if you said you accept it, too. Hugh held out a hand to seal the deal, smiled when Dillon shook. Thank you. This is the best gift anyones ever given me. You gave me the same. Lori, Julia said the rescue organization youre affiliated with is called Loving Hearts Animal Rescue. In addition to the adoption fee, Id like to make a donation to your group. Thats generous of you, and much appreciated I can promise you. We can take care of the paperwork right back here. Dillon, why dont you take your puppies out that side door? Theres a little fenced yard. Id say youd be smart to take them out, let them do their business before you put them in the car. It took nearly half an hour before Hugh helped Dillon load the puppiesin a borrowed crateinto the back of his SUV. Along with what Lori called a congratulations basket of dog food samples, treats, chew toys. Since the puppies seemed happyfor the momentto share a big blue bone-shaped toy, Hugh got behind the wheel. I guess the next step is for you to name them. Any ideas? Hes Gambit, shes Jubilee. Theyre X-Men, and pretty awesome. Gambit and Jubilee. Hugh glanced back at the dogs as he eased out of the drive. Good choices. I think we have one more thing to do before taking them home. We should go buy some collars, leashes, beds, what have you. Part of the gift, Hugh said before Dillon could comment. Dillon looked back, then at Hugh. Im never going to forget it. Hugh turned, started the drive, and said simply, Neither will I.

  • Revealed /  (by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast, 2013) -   Revealed / (by P.C.
  • The Wind in The Willows /    (Grahame, 2014)    The Wind in The Willows /
  • Pollyanna /  (Porter, 2014)    Pollyanna /
  • A Bug's Life /   (Disney, 2012)    A Bug's Life /

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