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The Last of the Moon Girls / (by Barbara Davis, 2020) -

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The Last of the Moon Girls /     (by Barbara Davis, 2020) -

The Last of the Moon Girls / (by Barbara Davis, 2020) -

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The Last of the Moon Girls / (by Barbara Davis, 2020) -
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2020
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Barbara Davis
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Sarah Mollo-Christensen
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upper-intermediate
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12:58:14
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87 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Last of the Moon Girls / :

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audiobook (MP3) .


: The Last of the Moon Girls

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Love works magic. It is the final purpose Of the world story, The Amen of the universe. Novalis PROLOGUE A body thats been submerged in water undergoes a different kind of decomposition: harsher in some ways, kinder in othersor so Ive been told. We Moons wouldnt know about that. We choose fire when our time comes, and scatter our ashes on land that has been in our family for more than two centuries. Mine are there now too, mingled with the dust of my ancestors. Can it really be only weeks that Ive been gone? Weeks hovering between worlds, unable to stay, unwilling to go, tethered by regret and unfinished business. The separation feels longer, somehow. But it is not my death I dwell on today but the deaths of two young girlsDarcy and Heather Gilmanmore than eight years ago now. Theyd been missing nearly three weeks when their bodies were finally pulled from the water. It was a ghastly thing to watch, but watch I did. They were dragging my pond, you see, convinced they would find what they were looking for. And why not, when the whole town was looking in my direction? Because of who I wasand what I was. Or at least what they imagined me to be. Memory, it seems, does not die along with the body. Its been years since that terrible day at the pond, and yet I remember every detail, replaying them again and again, an endless, merciless loop. The police chief in his waders, his men with their boat. The MEs van looming nearby, its back doors yawning wide in anticipation of new cargo. The bone-white face of a mother waiting to learn the fate of her girls. Whispers hissing through the crowd like electric current. And then, the telling shrill of a whistle. A hush settles over us, the kind that carries a weight of its ownthe weight of the dead. No one moves as the first body appears, the glimpse of an arm in a muddy brown coat, water pouring from the sleeve as the sodden form is dragged up onto the bank. A bloated, blackened face, partly obscured by hanks of sopping dark hair. Theyre careful with her, handling her with a tenderness thats gruesome somehow, and agonizing to watch. Theyre preserving the evidence, I realize, and a cold lick goes down my spine. So they can make their case. Against me. A short time later a second body appears, and there comes a broken wail, a mothers heart breaking for her darlings. And thats how it all unraveled, the awful day that set up all the rest. The end of the farm. And, perhaps, the end of the Moons. ONE July 16 Althea Moon was dead. That was the gist of the letter. Dead in her bed on a Sunday morning. Dead of a long and wasting illness. Dead and already cremated, her ashes scattered at the rise of the full moon, as laid out in her will. The room blurred as Lizzy scanned the letter through a film of tears, the terse lines smearing on the page. With your mothers whereabouts currently unknown, you have been deeded sole possession of Moon Girl Farm. I am forwarding this parcel in accordance with your grandmothers final wishes. There was a signature at the bottom. Evangeline Broussard. The name wasnt familiar, but it was clear that the womanwhoever she wasknew more about Altheas last days than she did. She hadnt even known her grandmother was sick. Lizzy swallowed past the bite of tears, the mingled tastes of guilt and grief salty on her tongue as she reached for the parcel that had accompanied the letter. It was wrapped in brown paper, and somewhat worse for wear. She stared at the words stamped across the package in red ink: RETURN TO SENDER. Apparently it had been mailed to her old apartment, returned by the new tenants, and then re-sent to her office. Shed meant to send Althea one of those change of address cards, but like so much of late, it had fallen through the cracks. She held her breath as she tore away the wrapping, then exhaled sharply when she caught a glimpse of heavily tooled black leather. She knew the book well. It was the journal Althea had given her on her sixteenth birthdaythe journal all Moon girls received on their sixteenth birthday. Her fingers quivered as she ran them over the cover, the ribbed spine, the pages with their coarse deckle edges, knowing the feel of them by heart. There were eight more just like it back in Salem Creek, locked away in a bookcase in her grandmothers reading room, each named for the author who had penned it. The Book of Sabine. The Book of Doroth?e. The Book of Aurore. On down through the generations. Presumably, the ninthThe Book of Altheahad now taken its place among them. They were a tradition in the Moon family, a rite of passage as each member committed to the Path. Painstakingly penned volumes of remedies and recipes, sacred blessings and scraps of womanly wisdom, carefully preserved for future generations. And here was hers, turned up again like the proverbial bad penny, as blank as the day shed received it. She opened it gingerly, staring at the inscription. To ElzibethIts Time to write your story. Not Elizabeth. Elzibeth. She couldnt even have a normal name. At sixteen, shed wanted no part of the traditionor any other part of her familys strange legacy. Shed wanted to be normal, like other people. And so shed put the journal in a drawer and ignored it. Holding it now, after so many years, felt like an indictment, a reminder that in spurning this sacred family custom, she had turned her back on everything her grandmother had lived, taught, and believed. She could have pretended for Altheas sake, gone along with what was expected of her and filled the journal with silly scribblings. Even normal girls kept diariespink things with hearts on the cover and flimsy brass locks to keep snoopers at bay. But shed been too stubborn to go along, determined to break with the Moon tradition and map her own future. Shed done it too, if the shiny new plaque on her office door was any indicationfrom freshman at Dickerson to intern at Worldwide to creative director of Chenier Fragrances, Ltd., all in the space of eight years. But six months after her coveted promotion, she was still trying to wrap her arms around the new position and the recent flurry of changes in her life. There hadnt been time to tell Altheaat least thats what shed been telling herself. The truth was their communication had grown increasingly spotty over the years. Not out of laziness, but out of guilt. It felt wrong to crow about her success when her grandmother had been forced to watch her own lifes workher beloved farmwither and die. Instead, shed convinced herself the checks she sent from time to time would atone for an eight-year absence, for letters that went unanswered and phone calls that came only rarely. They didnt, of course. Nothing could. And now it was too late to tell Althea anything. She tried to digest ita world without Althea Moonbut couldnt manage it somehow. How could such a woman, so rich in wisdom, life, and love, who seemed to have sprung from the very soil she loved and tended, ever be gone? Shed never mentioned being sick. Not once in all her long, newsy letters. Yet Evangeline Broussards letter had mentioned a prolonged illness. Why would Althea have kept such a thing from her? Ah, youre herefinally. Lizzy blinked back a fresh sting of tears, dismayed to find Luc Chenier hovering in her office doorway. Hed just had a haircut, and looked even more devastating than usual in his ubertailored black Brioni. He knew it too, which used to annoy her when they were seeing each other, but didnt anymore. She sniffed away the remnants of her tears. The last thing she needed was to be caught crying at her desk by the man whod just green-lighted her promotionor to be peppered with uncomfortable questions, which she would be if he thought for a minute that she was holding something back. She glanced up at him, hoping to appear unruffled as she swept the journal into her lap and out of sight. Did you need something? He turned on the smile, recently whitened by the look of it. I came looking for you at lunchtime, but they said you had a meeting. I was with marketing, trying to nail down the concepts for the new print campaign. Were not quite there yet, but we should have Luc cut her off with the wave of a hand. Come out with me after work. I was going to take you to lunch, but dinners better, dont you think? No, she didnt think, though it didnt surprise her that he did. He was used to getting his way. And why wouldnt he be? The man positively oozed charm. It didnt hurt that he looked like Johnny Depp without the eyeliner, or that hed retained a hint of his mothers French accent. But those things had quickly lost their appeal. Theyd done their best to keep things quiet. No office flirtations or public displays of affection. No lunches that didnt include a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint handout. But the night her promotion was announced theyd gone to Daniel to celebrate, and run smack into Reynold Ackerman, an attorney from legal, who happened to be there with his wife, celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary. That was when she knew she had a choice to makeend things or become the office clich?. Shed ended it the next day. Luc had taken it well enough, perhaps because theyd established ground rules early on. When the time came, either party could walk away. No tears. No recriminations. But lately, hed been signaling that maybe they should pick up where theyd left off. A nonstarter, as far as she was concerned. So tonight, then? he prompted from the doorway. We can do Italian. I cant. Im sorry. Ill book us a table at Scarpetta. The cannoli alone My grandmother died, she blurted. I just got the letter. Luc had the good grace to drop the smile. He stepped into the office and closed the door behind him. Im sorry. I didnt know she was sick. Neither did I. The words stung more than Lizzy expected, and she found herself having to look away. Crying on each others shoulders hadnt been part of their arrangement, and she wasnt about to start now. Apparently, shed been keeping it from me. I dont remember you talking about her much. Or any of your family, for that matter. Were you close? We were, she said evenly. She basically raised me. Tough break. Lizzy stared up at him from her desk chair. Tough break? Thats what you say to someone when a person they love dies? And yet she shouldnt be surprised. Shed seen him deal with death before. Theyd been seeing each other on the quiet for several months when Lucs mother, and Lizzys mentor in the world of fragrance, finally lost her battle with cervical cancer. Lizzy had watched him at the funeral, shaking hands and accepting condolences, playing the dutiful son. But as the afternoon wore on, she couldnt help thinking that that was precisely what he was doingplaying a role. Initially, she had attributed the lack of grief to the lingering nature of his mothers illness. Hed had time to prepare, to make his peace and say goodbye. Now she wondered if shed given him too much credit. Im sorry for your loss, he said finally, reaching across the desk to lay a hand over hers. Youll want to go home, of course, for the funeral. Lizzy slid her hand free, tucking it in her lap and out of reach. There isnt going to be a funeral. Theyve already scattered her ashes. Lucs brows shot up. Whatwithout you? Lizzy nodded, unwilling to say more. When it came to family, she preferred to keep the details to a minimum. If you wanted to be taken seriouslyand she didthere were places you just didnt go. We dont make a fuss in my family, she said, blinking back a rush of tears. Unless you consider having your ashes scattered in a lavender field on the first full moon after your death making a fuss. Besides, it was my fault. I forgot to send a change of address when I moved, so there was a mix-up with the letter. She died two months ago. When I didnt respond, the funeral home must have gone ahead and taken care of her ashes. Luc nodded, as if it all made perfect sense, then frowned suddenly. Still a bit odd, though, right? Moving ahead without you? Lizzy avoided his gaze. Its sort of a family tradition. Theres . . . timing involved. Anyway, its done. Just as well, if you ask me. Ive never been big on funerals. All that grief in one place. He paused, feigning a shudder. Its a wasted emotion when you get right down to it. The person who died has no idea youre grieving, because, well, theyre dead. And everyone else is just standing around mumbling platitudes and eating deviled eggs. And then theres family, which is a whole other can of worms. Always messyor as my mother liked to say . . . compliqu?. Compliqu?. Lizzy nodded. It was the perfect descriptor for the Moons. Yes. Were quite . . . messy. How long since youve been back? Never. I left eight years ago and never went back. Luc whistled softly. Thats a long time, even by my standards. Your mothers gone? Lizzy knew what he was askingwas her mother dead? The truth was she had no idea. No one did. And that was almost the same thing. Yes. Shes gone. Everyones gone. Luc stepped around to her side of the desk, propping a hip on the corner. My poor little orphan, he said softly. Youre not alone, you know. My mother loved youso much that she made me promise to look after you. She said, Luc, Lizzy is going to be brilliant one day, and I want you to take care of her. Its as if in leaving me this company, she left me you too. Lizzy resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. You cant leave a person in a will, Luc. And Ive been on my own for a pretty long time. He stood, and moved to the window. How long will you need? Three days? Four? She frowned. For what? I dont know. Bereavement, I guess. Whatever you need to do. Im guessing theres financial stuff to handle, a house to sell. Its a farm, actually. An herb farm. But I dont need to go back. I can handle everything from here. Seriously? He smiled, as if pleasantly surprised. And here I was thinking you were the sentimental type. Lizzy shook her head, desperate to end the conversation before she said something that raised Lucs carefully groomed brows again. Its just . . . a lot of stuff. Memories Id rather not dredge up. Like you said, its . . . compliqu?. His smile widened, straddling the line between arrogance and condescension. My mother was the sentimental type. She used to say we all need to go home from time to time, to remind us where we came from. I think she was half-right. We do need to go home from time to time, but only to remind us why we left in the first place, so we can get clear on what we do want. Because in the long run, thats all that matterswhat we want from life and what were willing to do to get it. Maybe thats what you need, Lizzy, to go spend some time with your memories. Things might look different when you do. Time with her memories. Lizzy dropped her eyes to her lap, unwilling to meet his gaze. He had no idea what he was asking. Not that he should. How could anyone imagine the kind of memories they were really talking about? Its fine, really. Im fine. I can make it work long-distance. Luc eyed her skeptically. Suit yourself, but you dont sound fine. Maybe theres something to be said for processing your loss, putting a period to things, as they say. I could go with you, make things easier. And there it was, the real motive behind his sudden concern. Weve been over for months, Luc. Im aware. Then why make the suggestion? Would you believe I was being noble? No. Luc dropped the smile, apparently accepting defeat. Still a crummy time to be alone. At least let me take you to dinner. I promise to stick to business, if thats how you want it. Thanks. But I think I just need to be by myself. Lizzy watched him go, pretty sure he was miffed. But hed been right about one thing. She did need time to process, to digest the fact that she was suddenly alone in the world, and what that meant. Althea was dead, and her mother had apparently fallen off the face of the eartheither literally or figuratively. And thered be no more Moons after Elzibethof that she was certain. For all intents and purposes, she had just become the last Moon girl. TWO Lizzy kicked off her shoes and made a beeline for the kitchen. Shed managed to finish out the day, smiling through a steady stream of condolences as news of her loss spread through the office. Now all she wanted was a large glass of wine and to be alone with her grief. She opened a bottle of chardonnay and poured herself a generous glass, then paused to water the herb pots she kept on the sill. Rosemary, for remembrance. Basil, for courage. Thyme, for warding off nightmares. It was the catechism of her childhoodthe catechism of all the Moon girls. On impulse, she plucked a basil leaf from the plant on the sill and rolled it between her palms, releasing its savory-sweet fragrancepeppery, anise-like, faintly minty. It was one of her favorite aromatics, perhaps because it reminded her of happy times spent cooking in her grandmothers kitchen. But this time another memory surfacedan older memory. Althea had been out surveying the damage after an unusually late frost when Lizzy came up from behind. She couldnt have been more than seven at the time, but she had known instinctively to keep still, mesmerized by the strange intensity in her grandmothers face as she knelt beside a clump of blackened basil plants and, with eyes closed, passed her calloused hands over them. She had murmured something then, tender words Lizzy couldnt make out. It was the first time shed ever seen her grandmothers gift in action, but shed never forgotten it. Or the sight of those same plants the next day, healthy and green, and without a trace of frostbite. It had been Altheas most startling giftthe ability to raise a nearly dead herb or flower with a touch and a few gentle words. That, and an uncanny knack for growing things that had no business flourishing in stingy New England climes. Whispers about her grandmothers green thumb had been commonplace in Salem Creek. Some chalked it up to magick, others to a strict reliance on her almanac. Whatever it was, it was widely accepted that the rocky soil of Moon Girl Farm could refuse Althea Moon nothing. Who would tend that soil now that she was gone? The question needled as Lizzy carried her chardonnay to the living room. It would belong to someone else soon. The house and barn, the herb fields, her grandmothers apothecary shop, all passed out of the family and into the hands of strangers. She had always known it would happen, that one day Althea would die and something would have to be done with the farm. She just hadnt given much thought to what that something might look likeor that it might fall to her to carry it out. Shed have to work out the logistics, find a Realtor willing to handle the sale long-distance, then contact an estate dealer to handle the contents of the house. There wasnt much of any real value. But what of Altheas personal belongings? Her clothes, her booksthe collection of journals kept under lock and key in her reading room? Could she really trust the handling of those to a stranger? And if not, who did that leave? Certainly not her mother, whose recklessness had sent the final dominoes toppling. But Rhanna was another storyapparently one without an ending, since no one had heard from her in years. Lizzy felt numb as she perched on the arm of the couch, emptied of anger and blindsided by the events of the day. The sun was beginning its descent, sliding into the cracks and crevices of Midtown Manhattans jumbled rooftops, like one of those sepia postcards drugstores stocked for tourists. Three months after trading her tiny loft for a place in the East Tower, she still wasnt used to the view. Or any of the other perks that came with her posh new address. Luc had assured her that she would grow into her new surroundings, but as she glanced around the room, she recognized nothing. The furniture, the art on the walls, even the reflection staring back at her from the darkened window seemed to belong to someone elsea stranger pretending to be Lizzy Moon. Over the years, the city had polished her rough edges, leaving no sign of the girl whod run barefoot through her grandmothers fields, gathering herbs until her fingers were stained, her nails gritty with New England soil. But then, that was why shed come to New York: to rid herself of that girl. To live like other people. A plain, round peg in a plain, round hole. No surprises. No suspicions. No secret book with her name on it. Just . . . normal. And it had worked, mostly. Shed come a long way since leaving Salem Creek. But was there such a thing as too long? Was it possible to walk away so completely that you lost yourself in the process? She drained her glass and headed to the kitchen for a refill. She was on the verge of a good wallow; she could feel it. But she couldnt afford to become nostalgic, or forget what had ultimately driven her from Salem Creek. Eight years ago, a pair of teenage girls had failed to return home at curfew. Hours turned to days, days to weeks. Heather and Darcy Gilman had simply vanished. It had taken less than twenty-four hours for Altheas name to be raised as the likely culprit. It was hardly a surprise. Anytime anything went wrongan early blizzard, a freak high tide, an outbreak of measlesthe Moons were somehow to blame. Many claimed to speak in jest, but for those in certain circles, the rumors held a ring of truth. What Salem Creek lacked in worldly pretentions, it more than made up for with arcane superstitions and gaudy displays of religious fervor. The disappearance of the Gilman girls proved no exception. A hotline had been set up and the press descended. Vigils were held, complete with Bibles, candles, flowers, and teddy bears. And then, just when the furor was beginning to die down, thered been a knock at the door. Someone had called in an anonymous tip, claiming to have seen Althea dragging the girls, one at a time, into the pond, and then burying something nearby. A warrant had been issued, a pair of small straw poppets found. Voodoo dolls, the paper had called them, because they bore an eerie resemblance to the missing girls, right down to the color of the coats theyd been wearing the night they disappeared. But they hadnt been buried as the tipster claimed, only left out under a full moon, along with a small cloth bag of salt and caraway seeds. A protection ritual, Althea had explained to police, an offering to help guide the girls safely home to their parents. Theyd searched the pond next. An hour later, the bodies of Heather and Darcy Gilman had been dragged up from the bottom while half the town watched from behind a line of yellow crime tape. The MEs findings hadnt been long in coming: a fractured skull for one girl, a broken neck for the other. Both homicide. Decades-old rumors resurfaced with a vengeance, sometimes whispered, sometimes not. Spells, potions, naked rituals held at full moon. Virgin sacrifices. Many circulated by people whod known Althea all their lives. There wasnt a shred of real evidence, which was why no case had ever been brought, but that hadnt stopped the tongues from wagging. Or prevented the good people of Salem Creek from holding a candlelight vigilone nearly half the town had shown up forto pray away the evil in their midst. Innocent until proven guiltyunless your name was Moon. And now the woman theyd suspected of murder was dead. Had there been a sigh of relief? A day of feasting proclaimed by the mayor? Ding-dong, the witch is dead? Yes. Definitely wallowing now, and maybe just a little bit tipsy. She should probably scare up something to eat, but the idea held little appeal. Instead, she headed down the hall with her purse and her newly filled glass, intent on a long, hot soak before bed. She tossed her purse on the bed and peeled out of her clothes, then turned to retrieve her wineglass from the nightstand. The contents of her purse had spilled out over the comforter, including the journal Evangeline Broussard had sent along with her letter. The sight of it hit her like a blow to the solar plexus, the kind that doubled you up even when you knew it was coming. Althea was gone. Grief overwhelmed her as she sagged onto the bed and picked up the book, her tears so hot and jagged she nearly missed the sheet of paper that slid from between the pages and into her lap. She blinked at it, her tears shuddering to a sudden halt. The words were splotchy in places, but there was no mistaking Altheas taut script. My dearest Lizzy, If youre reading this letter, you know that Im gone, and why I asked for your book to be sent. Your happiness was all I ever wantedand all I want for you stillbut it would be a lie to say I didnt hope that happiness would be found at Moon Girl Farm. Ive never stopped wishing you home, wishing that one day you would come back to the land we both love so well, and to the Path the Moons have walked for generations. You showed such promise as a girl, so many gifts. But you were afraid of being differentof being special. You wanted so badly to be like everyone else that you were willing to throw away those gifts. But gifts like yours cant be thrown away. Theyre in you still, waiting to be called up. Waiting for you to come home. Ours is a long and undiluted line, but I fear that line will soon be broken, our legacy lost forever. Youre all thats left now, the last and best of us. But there are still things to learn, things there wasnt time to share before you went away. Broken things that need mending. Hidden things that need telling. The books are here, the teachings of all those who came before you. And you are their steward now, the keeper of our secrets. Its my hope that one day your book will be there too, shelved beside mine, so that gifts like ours will not be lost to the world. But that choice is not mine to make. Its yours. We all of us have a storyone we tell knowingly or not with our hours and our days. But as I said all those years ago, no one should write your story but you. Whatever you choose, know that you are always in my heart, and that this is not goodbye. There are no goodbyes, my Lizzy, only turnings of the Circle. Until then . . . A Lizzy was still crying as she folded the letter and slid it back between the blank pages of the journal. They were the kind of words that should never have to be written, the kind that should be said only face-to-face. Not that her grandmothers letter held many surprises. She had always known what was expected of herthe same thing that was expected of every Moon girl. She was meant to produce a daughter and train her in their ways, to ensure that the line remained unbroken, because thats how it had been done for generations. There were no Moon men. No brothers or sons, or husbands either. It hadnt been planned that wayor if it had, no one ever said so aloud. The Moon girls had just never been the marrying kind, preferring to keep their own company, raise their own daughters, and focus their energy on the family farm. But precious little had remained of the farm by the time Lizzy left for schoolor of the family for that matterand she doubted the eight years shed been gone had done much to repair that. Besides, she had a life. One shed worked hard to build. Let someone else rebuild the farm, someone who actually wanted it. But Altheas words echoed back to her. The books are here, the teachings of all those who came before you. And you are their steward now . . . Once again, it came down to the books. Thats why Althea had arranged to send her journal. It wasnt just about her story. It was about all their stories, and the duty that now fell to her as keeper of the Moons secrets. Always, always duty. Yes, she could find a Realtor to list the farm. She could even locate someone to clear out the furniture and her grandmothers personal effectsbut not the books. She had no idea what to do with themit wasnt the kind of thing anyone had ever talked aboutbut disposing of them was out of the question. Theirs was a subtle form of magickquiet magick, Althea had called it. None of that nonsense with cauldrons and candles for the Moon girls. No summoning spirits or casting curses. No covens or midnight bonfires. Just healing work recorded for posterity, proof that they had lived, and done good in the world. Shed have to make the trip to Salem Creek and box them up, even if all she wound up doing was shoving them in the back of her closet. At some point, shed need to think about what would happen to them when she was gonewhen there would be no one left to pass them on tobut not yet. Althea saw her as the last and best of the Moons. But she wasnt. Her giftsif thats what they werewere different from Altheas. She wasnt a healer or a charmer. She made perfume. And since her promotion to creative director, she didnt even do much of that. The truth was that, beyond a functioning reproductive system, she had little to offer the Moons. No remedies to share, no wisdom to impart, no sacred rituals to pass on to the next generation. But she would go back for the booksfor Altheas sake. And maybe Luc was right. Maybe she did need to spend some time with her memories, to look that other Lizzy Moon in the eye one last time before she walked away for good. THREE July 17 The sign for Moon Girl Farm was so faded Lizzy could barely make out the letters as she turned into the drive. It had taken six hours in a steady drizzle, the last of which had been spent winding along the frost-heaved backroads of rural New Hampshire, but shed finally made it. She had called Luc before 6:00 a.m., when she knew hed be at the gym and unlikely to pick up. Her message said only that she had changed her mind about going home, and would call him when she had some idea how much time she would need. She had then turned off her phone, nixing any chance of a return call. At the top of the drive, she cut the engine, reminding herself as she got out of the car that this was something she had to do, one last duty to be discharged before she could finally bolt the door on this chapter of her life. But even now, with a knot the size of a fist forming in her stomach, she could feel the pull of the place, a connection to the land that seemed to have been sewn into her soul. There had always been something otherworldly about the farm, a sense that it had somehow been carved out of time, and stood apart from the rest of the world, like Brigadoona place that existed only in her imagination. And yet here it was. Her childhood, preserved in time, like a living thing suspended in amber. Thered been nothing but open pasture on the outskirts of Salem Creek in 1786, when a pregnant Sabine Moon had fled France for the newly formed United States with nothing but a handful of jewels sewn into the hem of her skirt. And shed put those jewels to good use, trading them for an eight-acre parcel of land, where she would set up a small but soon-to-be-thriving farm. Shed been spurned by the villagers, who were wary of a woman brash enough to buy land without the help of a man, and then farm it herself. A woman who wore no ring, and offered no explanation for her swollen belly. Not to mention the bastard daughter she eventually paraded beneath their noses. And then two years of drought decimated the towns cropsall except Sabines, which continued to flourish. And so began the whispers about the strange ways of the Moons, the women who never married and bred only daughters, who grew herbs, and brewed teas, and made charms. Even now, no one was really sure what the Moons were, though there had been plenty over the years willing to venture an opinion, throwing around words like voodoo and witchery. Not that the good people of Salem Creek professed to believe in witches. Those superstitions had died more than a century ago, along with practices like pricking and dunking. But the Gilman girls had acted as a touch paper, reigniting speculation and long-buried wives tales. The murders went unsolved but the whispers lived on, while Altheas beloved farm withered for want of customers. Rhanna had been the first to go. Lizzy had moved to New York City a short time later, a twenty-eight-year-old freshman bound for Dickerson Universityand a life as far from Moon Girl Farm as she could get. And now Moon Girl Farm was hers. She sighed as she surveyed the grounds, struck by the glaring signs of neglect. Behind the house, neatly parceled flower beds had long since gone to weed, leaving a smattering of stunted blooms visible through the damp, green overgrowth. The herb rows had fared no better. But the neglect ran deeper than just the land. Beyond the ruined fields, the old stone cider house that served as Altheas apothecary had grown shabby as well. The slate-paved courtyard had once been filled with racks of potted herbs and bright summer flowers. Now crabgrass grew between the pavers, and the racks sat empty, the windows coated with grit. What must it have been like for Althea to see it shut up? To know her lifes work was at an end? And to bear it all alone? Across the fields, the old drying barn stood like a sentinel, its vivid indigo-blue boards now weathered to a dull blue gray, the hand-painted clouds and milky white moon decorating its west-facing wall faded to little more than ghosts. The skyscape had appeared almost overnight, a manifestation of Rhannas unpredictable and often outrageous muse. The fanciful artwork had caused quite a stir with the locals. An eyesore, some said, too hippie-dippie for the likes of Salem Creek. But the barn had eventually become something of a landmark, even appearing once in Yankee magazine as part of a feature on the hidden treasures of rural New England. Even now, dulled by time and weather, the sight of it brought a smile. It had been her main haunt as a teenagerher alone placecool and quiet, and blissfully off-limits to customers. It had also been an ideal place to set up a makeshift lab to work on her perfumes. Now, like the rest of Moon Girl Farm, it had become a shadow of its former self. Lizzy shook off the memories as she headed for the car and her suitcase. She was hungry and tired after the drive, and still battling the remnants of a wine headache. Thered be plenty of time for recrimination after shed scrounged up something to eat. The elements had taken a toll on the house, the sage-colored boards weathered to a shade that was more gray than green, the window lintels sagging and porous with rot. And yet here it stood, weather weary, but proud somehow, as tenacious as the woman who had built it more than two hundred years ago. The door groaned as Lizzy turned her old house key in the lock and pushed inside. She stood still for a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom of the entry hall. Shed forgotten how dark the house was, especially at the front, where the boughs of an ancient ash tree blocked the sunlight. But it was the stillness that struck her most, the sense that with Althea gone time had somehow stopped moving forward. The parlor was exactly as she remembered: the tweedy settee under the front windows, the pair of worn wingbacks flanking the brick fireplace, the mismatched collection of pewterware on the manteland the portraits lining the opposite wall. They were crudely rendered, for the most part, the work of various amateurs over the years, but each framed face bore a striking resemblance to its neighbor. Dark hair worn plainly, skin pale enough to be called translucent, and the telltale gray eyes that marked all the Moon women. She had grown up under those watchful eyes, their collective gaze so intense that she had often avoided the room as a child. Each face tells a story, Althea would say, before quizzing her on the names. Sabine. Patrice. Ren?e. Doroth?e. Sylvie. Honor?. The unexpected scuff of feet brought Lizzy up short. She turned sharply, surprised to find a mahogany-skinned woman standing at the base of the stairs. She was tall and strangely beautiful, with a high forehead, broad cheeks, and salt-and-pepper hair shorn almost to the scalp. She said youd come, the woman said, after a weighty moment of silence. Who are you? Evangeline Broussard. Evvie. You sent the letter. I did. Twice, as a matter of fact. Lizzy lifted her chin, chafed by the unspoken censure. I moved. Evvie seemed in no hurry to respond. She regarded Lizzy through narrowed eyes, sweeping her from head to foot. You forgot to tell your gran. Lizzy closed her eyes briefly, startled by the mingled tang of vinegar and spoiled peaches that seemed to radiate from the woman. Disapproval. It was a thing she had. The ability to read a person based on scent, like reading an aura, but with her nose instead of her eyes. It had started around the time she hit puberty, a common time for such gifts to ripen, Althea had explained. The episodes had been overwhelming at first: jumbled scents that hit without warning, and rarely made sense. It took a while, but shed eventually learned to decipher what was coming through, and even use it to her advantage, like a radar ping alerting her to possible threats. But her skills had grown spotty since moving away, as if leaving the farm had somehow diminished her reception. Now, suddenly, she was picking up a signal again, and that signal was disapproval. I meant to let her know, but I . . . Lizzy let the words trail, annoyed that she felt the need to explain herself to a stranger. What are you doing here? Could ask you the same. Yes, but Im asking. And since this is my grandmothers house, I think Im entitled to an answer. I was her friend, Evvie answered flatly. Who else wouldve written that letter? Lizzy tipped her head to one side, trying to read this strange woman. She had a peculiar lilt to her voice, her words rising and falling like the notes of a song. It was lovely and musicaland slightly unsettling. Or perhaps it was the womans copper-flecked green eyes that made it difficult to meet her gaze straight on. I assumed Evangeline Broussard was someone who worked for Altheas lawyer. Or the funeral home. I didnt expect to find you here. Evvie grunted. Makes us even, I guess. Why are you here? Now? After all this time? Lizzy groped for an answer, but the truth was she didnt have one. At least not one she felt comfortable sharing. There are some things of my grandmothers I wanted to take care of personally. Things I know shed want me to have. Evvies eyes narrowed again, but she made no reply. Instead, she offered the barest of nods before turning away, her battered UGGs scuffing the floorboards as she headed for the kitchen. Lizzy followed, noting for the first time that Evvie was wearing one of Altheas floral aprons. Are you cooking something? Supper. Lizzy watched as she lifted the lid from the soup pot simmering on the stove. After a taste, she pulled a jar of something from a nearby cabinet and sprinkled a pinch into the pot. You live here? Lizzy asked as the truth slowly began to dawn. Evvie turned, still clutching her spoon. I do. Unless youre here to give me the boot. Lizzy stifled a sigh. She was too tired to do battle, especially with a stranger. Im not here to give you the boot. I didnt even know you were here. Were you . . . her caregiver? Evvie laid down her spoon and wiped her hands on her apron. She didnt pay me, if thats what youre asking, but I suppose I was. Its what friends do for each othergive care. Lizzy felt her cheeks warm. I didnt mean . . . Im sorry, Im just trying to understand. You hungry? Lizzy blinked at her. What? Hungry? Evvie repeated, as if speaking to a particularly dull child. Are you hungry? Yes, I guess . . . Good then. Set the table. They ate in silence at the kitchen tablea rice dish of some sort, made with tomatoes and beans, and plenty of spice. It was delicious and exotic, full of ethnic flavors Lizzy couldnt place. And thankfully it contained no meat, sparing her the potentially awkward vegetarian discussion. She never told me she was sick, Lizzy said when the silence grew heavy. I would have come if she had. Evvie nodded as she drizzled a wedge of corn bread with honey. She knew that. Its why she didnt tell you. Even at the end, when I begged her to let me call you. She was a stubborn old thing. Said you were too. Somehow, I dont have trouble believing that. Lizzy looked down at her plate, toying with her food. What was it about the woman that made her feel like a naughty schoolgirl? She wanted you to want to be here, Evvie said finally, licking honey from her fingers. And if you didnt, she wanted you to be happy wherever you were. Thats how much she loved you. Enough to let you go. Lizzy put down her fork and wiped her mouth. I didnt just leave her, Evvie. I went away to schoollike Id always planned to do. I never hid the fact that I wanted out of this town. When I got accepted to Dickerson, I knew it was time. Althea was sad that I was leaving, but she understood. She knew that if she tried to keep you, shed lose you for good. And I guess she knew best, cause here you arefinally. Then why the shot about me leaving? Evvie turned coppery green eyes on Lizzy. I didnt take a shot. Least not the way you think. It isnt the leaving I have a problem with. I get that part well enough. Its the staying gone that gripes me. Everyones got a right to go looking for themselves, but once they manage it, they should come back home and deal with whats past, look things squarely in the eye. She paused, pushing back her plate, then fastened her eyes on Lizzys face. Or maybe you havent really found yourself. The remark chafed, as it was almost certainly meant to. But there were things Evvie didnt understand. There was a reason I wanted out of Salem Creek, Evvie. Something happened I know all about those girls, Evvie said, cutting her off. And what people thought, and what they said, and how they treated your gran. I know about your mama too, how she lost her mind that day in the coffee shop and said those awful things about cursing the whole town. How she packed up her clothes and hightailed it out of here, leaving everything in a shambles. I know it all. Lizzy only needed to meet Evvies eyes to see that it was true. She did know it all. Or almost all. Is there still talk? About Althea, I mean. Do people still think Again, Evvie cut her off. I didnt hear it through the grapevine, if thats what youre asking. Your gran filled me in. As for this town, I dont know what they think. I can tell you no ones ever uttered a word where I could hear it, but then they wouldnt be likely to. The sudden intensity in Evvies voice took Lizzy by surprise. Why not? They know better, I expect. The ghost of a smile appeared, showing teeth as white and even as a well-knotted string of pearls. I think theyre a little scared of me. Not too many faces like mine in Salem Creek. It was Lizzys turn to smile. She had no trouble believing people in Salem Creek were afraid of Evvie. She was nothing if not formidable. And yet there was something about her that was inexplicably comforting, a curious sense of the familiar. Tell me about my grandmother, she said softly. How long was she sick? Dishes. Im sorry? Evvie pushed to her feet, scraping her chair across the oak floorboards. We can talk while we do up the dishes. Bring your plate. Lizzy finished clearing while Evvie filled the sink. It felt strangely good to be back in the kitchen where she and Althea had spent so many happy hours, like stepping into a pair of old slippers you hadnt worn in a long time, and for a moment she could almost forget the terrible chain of events that had changed their lives forever. Almost. So my grandmother . . . , Lizzy prompted, accepting the dripping plate Evvie was holding out. Her liver, Evvie said, fishing another plate from the soapy water. It just gave out. She finally broke down and went to the doctor, but there wasnt much they could do. Sometimes we just wear out. And she didnt want any heroics. You know how she was. Never one for a fuss. Were you here when she . . . Lizzy let the question dangle, unable to say the word out loud. I was. And her ashesthat was you too? Mmm-hmmm. Lizzy put down her towel, her throat full of razor blades as she captured Evvies soapy hand. I dont know what to say except thank you. For being her friend. For being here. For doing the things that needed doing. It should have been me. It should have been family. Evvie looked up from the sink, her chin wobbling as she blinked away a film of tears. It was, she said thickly. Family isnt always about blood. Sometimes you just recognize someone. Thats how it was with your gran and me. We were kin. A special kind of kin. Anyone looking at Evvie, at her mahogany skin and copper-flecked eyes, would have a hard time believing she could be any sort of kin to Althea. And yet Lizzy had no trouble believing it. Im glad she had you, Evvie. That she had someone with her who loved her. Evvies face softened. You go on up now. Ill finish here. You look done in. Lizzy nodded. Done in didnt begin to describe how she felt after the events of the last twenty-four hours. She dried her hands, and was about to head to the hall to retrieve her suitcase when Evvie stopped her. Almost forgot. Im in your old room, so youll need to use Altheas. Beds been stripped, but there are sheets in the hall closet. Ill move your clothes and things in there tomorrow. She paused, running a critical eye over Lizzys skinny jeans and trendy black boots. Youll need real clothes around here. Lizzy accepted the critique of her wardrobe but balked at the idea of sleeping in Altheas bed. It felt wrong somehow, intrusive and disrespectful. Ill use Rhannas old room. Itll only be for a few days. Evvie shook her head. Cant. Rhannas room is more storage than bedroom these days. Besides, your gran would be happy to know you were in her room. I dont think Go on now, Evvie pressed softly. Shed want you there. Altheas room was at the head of the stairs. Lizzy closed her eyes briefly as she took hold of the knob, steeling herself for the flood of emotions she knew waited on the other side of the door. She lingered in the doorway, picking out small, familiar details: the volume of Rumi that had been Altheas favorite, the bit of stag antler they had discovered one day while walking in the woods, the carved wooden bowl of wishing stones on the nightstand. In the end, it was the dressing table that finally drew her into the room. It had been her favorite spot in the house as a child, the place where her love affair with fragrance had begun. Geranium, jasmine, patchouli, sandalwoodan endless array of scents to blend in fresh, new ways, like an artists palette for the nose. As far back as she could remember, Althea had spun tales about the strange talents of the Moon women, each uniquely gifted with her own quiet way of being useful in the world. And one day, while sitting at this dressing table, Lizzy had discovered her own brand of quiet magickthe glorious, mysterious alchemy of fragrance. She had known instinctively that fragrance was its own kind of medicine, that its natural abilities to elevate mood and evoke emotion could be enormously effective in restoring a sense of well-being. She had also gleanedthanks to her unusual giftthat every person possessed their own distinct scent, like fingerprints, a set of olfactory markers that acted like a kind of signature. It was a discovery that eventually became the foundation of her entire career. On her fourteenth birthday, she had announced her intention to bottle Altheas love for the land. It was an impossibly childish ideacapturing emotions like fireflies in a jarbut Althea hadnt discouraged her, despite the fact that she hadnt a clue where to begin. She had simply followed her nose, eventually settling on lavender because it smelled like earth, and bergamot because it smelled like sunshine, and together they smelled like Althea. A few months later, she made good on her intention, unveiling a simple, dual-note fragrance shed named Althea, after the woman who had inspired its creation. Shed found the bottle in one of the dusty secondhand shops downtown, and saved her lunch money for two weeks to afford it. It was still on the dressing table, square with a heavy base and a long, tapered stopper. It had been refilled many times over the years but was empty now, save for the sticky brown resin at the bottom. She lifted the stopper anyway, hoping for a telltale whiff of her grandmother, but was disappointed to find only the cloying tang of oxidized oils. A fresh wave of grief washed over her as she returned the bottle to the dressing table, the ache of Altheas absence moving through her like a physical pain as she wandered to the low-ceilinged nook that had served as a storage larder before Althea fitted it with shelves and a chair for reading. Over the years, her grandmother had acquired many cherished possessions, but none more cherished than her books. Her guilty pleasures, she had called them, perfect for whiling away the frigid New England winters. And then there was the bookcase: glass-fronted with three tiers, and doors that locked with a tiny brass key. Lizzy bent down to peer through the glass. The books. As a girl, shed been in awe of them, or at least of what they represented. All those Moon womenspinsters to the lastsitting by their fires night after night, scribbling secrets meant only for walkers of the Path. And now, like Moon Girl Farm, they belonged to her. She found the key right where Althea always kept it, in the drawer of her dressing table. There was a whiff of leather and old paper as she opened the door, and for a moment she caught herself holding her breath, like a child expecting to be caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Except there was no one left to scold her. She ran a finger down the row of ribbed spines, the leather cool against her fingertips, then dropped to her knees and slid the first book free. The Book of Sabine. The woman who had started it all. Lizzy turned the pages slowly. The ink had faded to a muted brown, the nib strokes spidery and fine, making them hard to decipher. The mix of English and French hardly helped. Not that she needed to read any of it. She knew it all by heart. Sabines betrayal by the man she loved, and her flight to avoid persecution. The struggle to survive in a strange land, with an infant daughter on her hip. Her edict that no Moon allow themselves to be enslaved by marriage, lest they be betrayed and the line ended. It was the stuff of family legend, told and retold down through the generations. She slid the volume back onto the shelf, running an eye over the others. So many Moons, each with a story to tell. Patrice, the first Moon girl born on US soil. Ren?e, the only Moon to have ever produced a son. The poor thing had lived only a handful of hours, unlike his twin sister, Doroth?e, who had managed to thrive. Whispers about the boys death had persisted throughout Ren?es life. Sylvie, whod scandalized the town by living openly and unabashedly with a woman named Rachel Conklin. Aurore, who had shocked the neighbors with her daily walks in the woods, wearing nothing but her shoes. Honor?, who after four stillborn girls had finally given birth to Althea at age forty-four. And of course, the most recent addition, The Book of Althea. They were all thereplus one more. Lizzy frowned at the final volume, not black like the others but a deep-wine calfskin, embossed with flowers and vines. She had never seen it before. Was it possible Rhanna had left a book behind after all? It would be just like her to break with tradition and use such a vividly colored book, one final gesture of defiance. What kinds of things might her mother have recorded? An apology, perhaps, for her reckless behavior and poor choices over the years? Lizzy doubted it. Remorse had never been Rhannas strong suit. Still, she was curious. She pulled the odd volume from the shelf and laid it in her lap. The book was thick and oddly lumpy, fastened with a small brass hasp. Lizzy flicked it open and folded back the cover, expecting to see her mothers round, backward-slanting hand. Instead, she found a square of folded waxed paper tucked between the cover and first page. She teased open the folds, surprised to discover a carefully pressed sprig of rosemary. She blinked at it, then looked down at the open page and the tidy script running across the topAltheas script. Rosemary . . . for remembrance. My dearest girl, You must forgive me, dear Lizzy, for the secret I have kept. I had my reasons for not wanting you to know I was ill. I didnt want you to come back because of me, because you felt some sense of duty. I made so many mistakes with your mother when she was young. I was determined to make her honor my path instead of her own, when I of all people should have known better. I never wanted to put that kind of burden on you. I wanted you to be free to spread your wingsand fly home only if thats where your heart led you. If youre reading this, perhaps it has. My Circle will close soonas all Circles mustbut there is time yet, and so I have picked up my pen. Because it is our way to teach, to reach back into history and pull out what should always be remembered. We must never forget who we are. How far weve come, and what weve had to endure at the hands of those who fear what they do not understand. You know Sabines story, that she came from France, alone, with a child in her belly, fleeing the authorities. But it wasnt for any crime that they wanted her. It was for what she believed and the Path she walked. It wasnt long after the burning times, and there were somemany in factwho held tight to their superstitions. They were useful, you see, trotted out now and then, against women who dared to speak up, and claim what was rightfully theirs. This was how it was for Sabine. Her lover was engaged to marry another. When he learned about the child, he denounced her, accusing her of unspeakable things. A warrant was sworn. They would not have burned her. Such things had ended by then. But they would have made a case against her, for indecency or thievery, or some other thing. And they would have arrested heror worse. And so she fled and began again. She learned to do for herself and her child. Without a man, and without a care for the opinion of others, depending on her farm and her gifts to make her way in the world. And she passed on those giftsher knowledge of herbs and healingand made her place in the world helping others. That is who we are, Lizzy. Fighters. Mothers. Healers. There will always be those who are afraid, who will make up stories to cover their fear. Theyll point fingers and call names. And yes, theyll lie. But we cant let that change who we are, or dim the light that is in us. You were such a clever child, so bright and observant. You never missed a thing. And that nose of yours. You were special, gifted in a way your mother never wasin ways I never was, come to that. I knew it early on, could see it shining out of you long before you knew yourself. And then, when you began to suspect, you fought it. You wanted a life that looked like everyone elses. Pony rides and Christmas trees, sleepovers with girlfriends. I can hardly blame you for that. Salem Creek isnt an easy place to be different. And theres nothing on earth quite so cruel as a child whos discovered someone is uncomfortable in her skin. I dont imagine your mothers escapades helped matters either, always kicking up some fuss or other in hopes of drawing attention to herself. She never cared that it drew attention to you too. Attention you never wanted. You preferred being alone. You had your books and your oils and your perfumes. And you pretended it was enough. It wasnt, though, and that was hard to see. You were so beautiful, but you were always hiding, trying to make yourself invisible. And then . . . those poor girls. It was an agony to know the people of this town thought me capable of such a thing. Murder. Why? What would I have to gain by taking the lives of two beautiful young girls? But theres no reasoning with people once an idea takes root. The whispers caught fire, and that was that. But it was harder still to watch what all their talk did to you. Every day, I saw you pull away a little more, knowing there was nothing I could do. And then when your mother left, I saw how badly you wanted to go too, to be away from it all. I didnt blame youwill never blame youfor leaving for school. Youve grown into a special woman, just as I knew you would, living the life youve carved out for yourself. Im so proud of you for thatfor making your own way in the world. Youre like Sabine in that way. You have her will and her strength. I was not so strong when I was young. I fell in line and walked the path already paved for me, too timid to stray, to find a way to be both what I wanted and what was expected of me. I hadnt your spirit back then, though I sometimes wish I had. So much becomes clear when looking over ones shoulder. I have no regrets, or if I do, theyre few, and faded with time. But I understand now that there are an infinite number of paths in this life. Some are well traveled, others must be forged. But none should be walked with a guilty or bitter heart. Which is why Ive written this second booka Book of Remembrancesnot for posterity, but for you, my Lizzy. So you will remember how things were before it all went wrongthe happy times we shared when you were a child, the lessons I taught you, and your love of the land. Those things will always be your heritage. And so I ask you to read the remaining pages, but to do so slowly, as I taught you to do when you were young and hungry to know too much all at once. Absorb the words a little at a time, and hold them close. Then come back to the book when you are ready. Trust me in this, sweet girl. You will know when its time. A FOUR July 18 Lizzy swam up slowly from sleep, fully dressed beneath the softly worn quilt she must have pulled over herself during the night. She hadnt bothered to change clothes, or even to go looking for sheets. She had simply curled up on the bare mattress with Altheas book and started to read. The Book of Remembrances. Even now, after her death, Althea was still teaching, reminding her who she was and where shed come from. But there had been one passage in particular that had struck her in a way she hadnt expected. So much so that shed gone back and read it over several times. I was not so strong when I was young. I fell in line and walked the path already paved for me, too timid to stray, to find a way to be both what I wanted and what was expected of me. I hadnt your spirit back then, though I sometimes wish I had. Had she imagined the tinge of regret? A wistfulness for something lost or left undone? It was hard to imagine Althea wanting anything more than the life she had. She always seemed to be right where she belonged, in love with her work and the bright, sprawling fields of Moon Girl Farm. And yet her reference to falling in line seemed to hint at a disappointment of some kind. And there was the mention of a bitter heart, though that was easier to explain. If being branded a murderer and losing everything you held precious wasnt cause for a bitter heart, Lizzy didnt know what was. The book sat on the nightstand. Lizzy laid a hand on the cover, wondering what else Althea had to say. The temptation to keep reading last night had been almost overpowering, but she had been urged to absorb the words a little at a time, and hold them close. And because it was the last request her grandmother would ever make of her, she would honor it. She went to the door and peered out into the hall. There was no sign of Evvie, but she did find a folded pair of soft green corduroys, a white cotton blouse, and a pair of battered lace-up boots. She smiled as she ran a hand over the scuffed boots, strangely glad to see them, like old friends shed left behind but not quite forgotten. She had to admit, it would feel good to lose the heels and office attire for a few days. After a quick shower, she made her way downstairs. Evvie was seated at the table, scanning the mornings copy of the Chronicle through a pair of bright-blue drugstore readers. She twitched the corner of her paper down as Lizzy entered the kitchen, giving her outfit a quick once-over. Better, she said flatly. Like you belong here. Thanks. Is there coffee, by any chance? Just tea, Evvie said, retreating behind her paper. And a plate of eggs in the oven. Lizzy didnt have the heart to tell Evvie she usually skipped breakfast. Or that she didnt function particularly well without her morning coffee. She pulled the plate from the oven, eyeing the mound of scrambled eggs and home fries with dismay. It was more food than she was used to eating in a day, let alone for breakfast. Evvie eyed her with raised brows. You dont eat eggs? No, I do. I just dont usually eat breakfast. And this is a lot of breakfast. Hmmm. Evvie looked her up and down again. Could do with a bit of meat on your bones, if you ask me. Dont they feed you in New York? Lizzy let the remark pass, opting to change the subject as she sat down with her plate. Tell me your story, Evvie. How you met my grandmother and ended up living here. Evvie plucked the readers from the end of her nose and laid them on the table. My bees. Bees? Look out the window. Lizzy craned her neck to peer out the back window. It took a few seconds, but eventually she spotted a trio of pastel-hued boxes to the left of Altheas greenhouse. Apiaries, she believed they were called. You raise bees? Dont raise em. Just look after em. I make jewelry too. Bracelets mostly. Lizzy nodded, trying to imagine what taking care of bees might entail, then realized Evvie hadnt actually answered the question. What have bees got to do with my grandmother? Evvie pushed back from the table, crossed to the stove, and put the kettle on. My sister, she said, pulling a mug from the cupboard. Cant remember why now, but she was up here a few years back and stumbled onto your grans shop. When she came home, it was all she could talk about, the kinds of things she made and how special it all washow special she was. So I wrote to her about putting some of my honey in her shop, and she said yes. After that, we wrote back and forth. She paused, smiling wistfully. That woman loved a good letter. Lizzy smiled too. Yes, she did. Evvie reached for the kettle as it began to whistle. When she had finished brewing the tea, she carried two mugs back to the table and produced a small jar of honey from her apron pocket. Moon Girl Farm Honey, she said proudly. From right out back. Lizzy accepted the jar, stirring a spoonful into her mug as Evvie settled back into her chair. You were telling me how you got to the farm. Two years ago, she invited me for a visit. She paused, shrugging as she spooned a hefty dollop of honey into her own mug. I never went back. Back where? Baton Rouge. But the accentits not just Southern. Theres something else. Kr?yol la lwizy?n, Evvie pronounced over the rim of her mug. Creole. My mamas people came from the West Indies. Do you still have family there? In Baton Rouge, I mean. Evvie shook her head. Not anymore. My sister remarried. Moved to Texas, of all places. Then my husband passed. Wasnt much reason to stay after that. Her face darkened briefly, and she looked away. So here I am with my bees and my beads, getting on with what time I have left. And youwhy are you here? The real reason. Last night you said there were some personal things you wanted to take care of, but I expect theres more to it than that. Lizzy looked at her barely touched breakfast. Shed been hoping to keep her plans to herself awhile longer, until she had a firmer grip on the logistics, but under the circumstances that didnt seem fair. Evvie deserved to know what was coming, so she could make plans. Im here to put the farm on the market, she said quietly. Im going to sell it. I figured as much. It isnt about the money, Evvie. Theres just no reason for me to hold on to it. I know what Althea wanted, but what would I do with a farm? Same as she did. Grow things. Make things. Help folks. I already have a jobone I worked hard to earnand its in New York. Evvie folded her hands on the table, lips pursed, as if deliberating what to say next. Your gran told me about you, she said finally. How you were something special. She couldnt stop bragging about younot just your gifts, but who you were and what youd made of yourself. You had a dream, and you chased it. She was proud of you for that, even if it did mean leaving her. She knew you had some things to work out, but she never lost faith that you would work them out one day. And that youd be back. Lizzy set down her mug, determined to make herself clear. Yes, Im back, but not the way you mean. Theres nothing for me here. Evvie grunted, a sound Lizzy was starting to recognize as skepticism. You came all this way just to stick a sign in the ground, and then scurry back to New York? Lizzy didnt like the word scurry, but couldnt argue with the premise of the question. Yes. Mostly. You have someone there? Have someone? Someone, Evvie repeated. Someone who makes you soup when youre sick, holds your hand when youre sad. Someone who means something. Lizzy considered lying, but knew better than to think she could get anything past Evvie. No. I dont have anyone who fixes me soup. But then that was the deal shed struck with herself. No one to fix her soup also meant no one to ask awkward questions about her family, or wanting things she wasnt free to give. No strings. No hassles. No baring her soul. Shed never learned the art of opening up to another person. Alone was what shed learned instead, and what shed gotten good at. Alone was safe. Im too busy for a relationship right now, she told Evvie evenly. Evvie responded with another grunt. The gesture irked Lizzy. I know you and Althea were friends, she said, pushing back her plate. But there are things you dont understand about the Moons. Were not like other people. We dont do the whole love-and-marriage thing. That right? Yes, thats right. I dont expect you to understand Evvie stood, collecting Lizzys abandoned plate. I understand more than you think. I also hear what youre not sayingthat this is none of my business. No, Lizzy shot back. Thats not what Im saying. Im saying there are things you dont know. Things we dont talk about. Evvie clamped her lips tight, swallowing whatever shed been about to say. How long you planning to stay? Lizzy was both surprised and relieved that Evvie had changed the subject. Shed already said more than she should about the Moons. I dont know yet. A week, maybe. I thought Id walk the property this morning and get a feel for what needs to be done before I can list with a Realtor. Evvie scowled as she placed the empty plate in the sink. Almost forgot. Theres a man coming by later to do some work on your grans greenhouse. Its in awful shape, but he swears he can fix it. Does that really make sense? Spending money on repairs when the new owners will probably just knock it down? Probably not, but your gran set it up before she died. She loved that greenhouse. I know she did, Lizzy said somberly, opting to let the matter drop. Thanks for breakfast. Ill be back in a bit. Lizzy stepped out the back door and headed for the greenhouse, as good a place as any to begin her tour. Evvies assessment of its condition had been generous at best. Several of the glass panes were cracked; others were missing entirely. Inside, the tables were mostly bare, strewn here and there with rusty tools and stacks of empty clay pots. In one corner, several bags of potting soil had split open, spilling their contents onto the packed earth floor. She walked the lavender fields next, or what remained of them. Hidcote, Grosso, Folgate, Lavance. They had all grown here once upon a timeAltheas pride and joy. Now, only stunted patches of green remained, leggy and budless after too many untended winters. The sight made her heart sink. Why hadnt Althea picked up the phone and asked for help? The question quickly segued to another. Would she have come? If Althea had in fact picked up the phone, would she have dropped everything and returned to the farm? She wanted to believe the answer was yes, but she couldnt help wondering. The truth was shed never considered such a scenario, preferring to pretend Althea would live forever, because anything else was simply unthinkable. She arrived at the apple orchard a short time later to find that it had fared only slightly better. While the trees themselves seemed not to have suffered, the ground was riddled with last years fruit, left to decay where it had fallen, luring swarms of greedy yellow jackets. A small wooden shed stood beyond the last row of the trees, its shingled roof sagging and green with moss. In better days, it had been used to store bushel baskets and picking poles for the locals who would descend each fall to pick their own applesback before the Gilman girls went missing. Strangely enough, speculation about Altheas role in the disappearance had initially been a boon for business, luring curiosity seekers eager to purchase a vial of lavender oil in exchange for a glimpse of the woman suspected of murdering two teenage girls. For nearly three weeks speculation grew and the money had poured in. For those who knew Althea, locals whod come to trust her remedies and charms over the years, the talk seemed ludicrous. But even they began to doubt when the swollen bodies of Heather and Darcy Gilman were recovered from the pond and zipped into heavy black bags. Overnight, the avalanche of customers slowed to a trickle. Eight years later, the memories were still fresh, a wound that had never quite scarred over. But how could it when the questions continued to fester? Lizzy turned away from the orchard, heading for the woods and the trail Althea had walked nearly every day. She had made it a point to spend time among the trees every morning. Her prayer time, shed called it, which made sense. The woods had been her temple, sacred in a way no stone edifice could ever be. But she would never walk here again, never forage for mushrooms and wild herbs, never return from her walk with some feather, or birds nest, or bit of horn shed discovered along the way. A warm breeze suddenly shivered through the trees. Lizzy lifted her nose, catching the unmistakable scents of lavender and bergamot. It was only a whiff, the kind that clings to scarves and sweaters long after the wearer has shed them, but the sensation was so palpable that it felt like an actual presence, and for an instant she half expected to turn and find her grandmother standing behind her with an old willow trug tucked into the crook of her arm. It was just wishful thinking, wasnt it? Sensing a loved ones presence after they were gone? Believing they were still nearby, watching over those they held dear? Shed heard of such things, everyone had, but shed always chalked them up to grief. Now she wasnt so sure. What shed just experienceda fleeting but bone-deep certainty that she wasnt alonewas hard to dismiss. And she wasnt sure she wanted to. Lizzy forced her feet to move, knowing all at once exactly where she was goingperhaps where shed always intended to go. Lizzy slowed as she caught her first glimpse of the pond. The last time she saw it, there were policemen in wet suits and divers masks crawling through the cattails and common reed along its banks. But before thatbefore the Gilman girls and the body bagsher mother had come here to swim during the sticky New England summers. Once, she had even been invited to tag along. It was one of the rare timesperhaps the only timeRhanna had invited her anywhere, and for a few brief weeks, Lizzy had been foolish enough to think things between them might change, that at long last Rhanna was ready to actually be her mother, instead of leaving those duties to Althea. But that was the summer Rhanna abruptly stopped swimming, and that had been the end of that. She left a few weeks later. Not that shed been surprised. It was always Rhannas way, to live her life in fits and starts. Shed never had any real roots to Moon Girl Farm. Staying had merely been the path of least resistancethree meals a day and a roof over her head, and the freedom to come and go as she pleased. She had steered clear of the day-to-day work of the farm, choosing to busk on street corners instead, crooning folk ballads for whatever passersby might toss into her battered guitar case, or to read cards at the downtown market, wearing a head scarf and enormous hoop earrings. It had never earned her much, but it kept her in cheap booze or whatever else she happened to be into, and for Rhanna that had been enough. Lizzy shrugged off the memories and inched closer to the bank. The ground felt spongy, the damp grass slick under the soles of her boots, and for a moment she imagined herself skidding headlong into the reeds. She dug in her heels, unwilling to go closer, her arms hugged tight to her body as she gazed past the reeds to the shiny-dark water beyond. It had never been very deep. Just deep enough. The thought brought a shiver and the sudden chill of memory. Sodden hair dark with mud and a tangle of slimy weeds, a face rendered unrecognizable by weeks in the water. That was the Moons legacy nowthose girls and that day. And it would continue to be their legacy, as long as there was one person alive who remembered it. Harm none. It was their creed, and one her grandmother had taken very seriously. It was why they were vegetarian, because harm none meant animals too. How could anyone think her capable of harming two young girls? Lizzy squeezed her eyes shut, remembering the moment WKSN news had broken into the season finale of The Good Wife to report that two local girls had gone missing, and that police suspected foul play. No one could have predicted what happened next. How events would unfold to implicate an innocent woman, to rob her of friends, livelihoodand eventually her family. A guilty verdict without a trial. How had her grandmother lived with it? Worse stillhow had she died with it? Knowing there would always be some who chose to believe the whispers? In her Book of Remembrances, Althea had written of the Moon line, of her fear that it would soon be broken. Couldnt she see that it was already broken? That there was nothing to salvage, no way to clean up the story Salem Creek had already written? Youre all thats left now, the last and best of us. The words returned to taunt Lizzy. She might be the last, but she certainly wasnt the best. If she were, she wouldnt be in such a hurry to be rid of Moon Girl Farm. Shed stay and make things right. Fight to clear Altheas name. But was that even possible? As far as she knew, the police had failed to come up with a single viable lead, content in the absence of any real evidence to let the court of public opinion decide. And the publicor most of it at any ratehad been only too happy to oblige. That thered been no trial, no conviction, no sentence, was immaterial. People knew what they knew, and that was that. But if it was true that there would always be someone who remembered the day the Gilman girls came out of the water, it might also be true that someone, somewhere, remembered the day theyd gone into it. Perhaps someone who knew something they didnt realize they knew. And maybe that was reason enough to try. FIVE Andrew Greyson stepped over the low stone wall separating his familys land from the Moons, determined to finally begin the greenhouse repairs hed promised to start nearly six months ago. He hated that Althea had died before he could make good on his promise, but winter had gone on forever, and then thered been a backlog of renovation clients that needed placating. He thought thered be more timeshed always been such a tough old birdbut things had gone quickly at the end, which he supposed was a blessing. And yet here he was, toolbox in hand. Because a promise was a promise, especially one made to a dying woman. And Althea wasnt just any woman; shed been part of his life for as long as he could remember, going back to the weekends hed spent at the farm, helping his father, who, when not running the local hardware store, had enjoyed playing handyman. When Andrew moved back from Chicago four years ago and found his father in failing health, it had seemed natural that hed step in as Moon Girl Farms handyman. There wasnt much he hadnt patched or mended over the years. He knew every inch of the place: every leaky faucet, rickety gate, and tricky fireplace flue, not to mention the groaning furnace and fritzy wiring. Hed done his best over the years to help hold the place together, but two hundred years of damp springs and snowy winters had taken an inevitable toll, meaning long-term repairs needed to happen sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, they wouldnt be cheap, and although Althea had never said so directly, he suspected money was scarce. It would be sold eventually, perhaps as a fixer-upper, though as an architect specializing in the renovation of historic properties, his advice would be to raze it all to the ground and start from scratch. And yet the thought rankled. Something about the placeits history and its secretshad gotten under his skin as a boy, and had never quite let go of him. Okay, not somethingsomeone. Elzibeth Moon. Lizzy. Shed been part of his life for years too, though that particular street ran in only one direction. Nearly twenty years later he could still see her, emerging from the woods in a shower of autumn leaves, her dark hair caught on the wind, like something from another world, and so damn beautiful shed made his throat ache. Until that moment hed had only a vague awareness of her, the memory of a young girl peeling apples in her grandmothers kitchen, all knees and elbows and enormous gray eyes. And then that day in the woods, when he realized the skinny little girl had become a young woman of strange and startling beauty. Shed gone still at the sight of him, eyeing him like a skittish colt. Thered been a flash of something quick and sharp as their eyes locked. Recognition? Defiance? All these years later he still couldnt say. The encounter hadnt lasted longthe space of a few heartbeatsbut in those few taut moments, without so much as a word or a nod, she had bewitched him. And had then proceeded to treat him as if he were invisible. At school, in town, even at the farm, shed gone out of her way to steer clear of him. And who could blame her, when hed stood there staring like a lovesick calf? It wasnt until she left for school that hed finally taken his fathers advice to stop mooning over that girl and go live up to your potential. And so hed packed his car and headed to grad school. Hed done well for himself too, graduating top of his class with a job waiting at one of the most prestigious architectural firms in Chicago. But the Windy City had quickly lost its shine, and when his father finally came clean about the cancer, returning to Salem Creek had been a no-brainer. He had assumed Lizzy would do the same when Althea got sick, but she hadnt. He got it, sort of. Shed never been comfortable in Salem Creek, and the witch hunt that had ensued when the Gilman girls disappeared certainly hadnt helped. He was a Granite Stater down to his bones, but he wasnt blind to the sometimes priggish beliefs of small New England towns, or the damage those beliefs could do when turned on an entire family. The last he heard she was in New York, making perfume. Good for her, if she was happy. God knows she deserved it after all the crap shed endured. Hed been walking mindlessly, lost in his memories, but now, as he approached the place where the path forked off to the right, he registered the crunch of footsteps. He halted, turning toward the sound. For one addled moment, he entertained the possibility that he had stumbled through some sort of time warp, that the years had rewound themselves, hurtling him back to that chance meeting so many years ago. His next thought was that hed lost his grip on reality. It wasnt until she turned to face him that he realized she was actually there, staring back at him as if no time had passed at all. His breath caught as their gazes locked, as if hed just been sucker punched. Was it any wonder people believed what they did about the Moon girls? SIX Lizzy went still as she approached the fork in the path, startled by what she assumed was a squirrel scurrying about in the underbrush. She peered through the trees, scanning left, then right, as the sound drew closer. She saw him thenAndrew Greysoncoming through the trees, wearing jeans and heavy work boots, carrying a battered red toolbox. Her breath caught as their eyes locked and an eerie sense of d?j? vu crept over her. What was he doing here? Now? Again? She eyed the toolbox in his right hand. Evvie had said someone would be coming by to repair the greenhouse. That it turned out to be Andrew Greyson shouldnt really surprise her. Hed been a kind of fixture around the farm when they were kids, and even at school, always turning up at awkward moments, like some jock in shining armor, always bent on rescuing her, whether she wanted him to or not. There was the time hed ambushed her at homecoming assembly. Shed been sitting by herself, as usual, when he dropped down beside her, grinning goofily as he held out an open pack of Twizzlers. Every eye in the gym had suddenly fixed on them. At least thats how it felt at the time. Shed wanted to crawl under her seat. Instead, to the delight of his jock pals, sitting two rows up, shed bolted. Unfortunately, it hadnt deterred him. He kept turning up, tagging along with his father when he came to repair a faucet or a bit of fencing, appearing out of nowhere to offer her a ride home when the sky opened up one day and rained pea-size hail all over Salem Creek. And then the night at the fountain, when Rhanna had made a drunken spectacle of herself in front of the whole town, he had turned up again, to rescue her from the hecklers. It still baffled her. Hed been one of the hottest guys in school, honor student, captain of the football team, the clich?d big man on campus. She couldnt imagine what hed want with someone like her. Maybe it was pity. Or curiosity. The Moons were nothing if not curious. And now, here he was again. He was taller than she remembered, and harder somehow, but still ridiculously good-lookinghis russet hair cropped close to his head, his face lean and tanned. The last time Althea mentioned him, he was in Chicago, designing swanky homes for well-heeled corporate types. But that was before his father died. Was he here to stay then, or had he merely returned as she had, to tie up loose ends? Hello, he said stiffly. You might not remember me. Im Andrew. From next door. He nodded, shifting the toolbox from his right hand to his left. I didnt know you were back. Im sorry about your grandmother. I know you used to be close. Lizzy bristled at the suggestion that that was no longer the case. We were still close. Right. I didnt mean She wrote me that your father died. Im sorry. I remember him being a nice man. Nice to Althea. Yes, he was, and thank you. I was on my way over to do some work on the greenhouse. Evvie said youd be by. Well, not you, but someone. An awkward silence spooled out as the small talk dried up. Andrew shifted the toolbox again and took a step forward, as if planning to accompany her back to the house. Lizzy turned away, heading down the path at a clip. She had a decision to make, and she didnt want company. Andrew Greysons least of all. Back at the house, she found Evvie seated at the kitchen table, surrounded by saucers filled with an assortment of colorful beads. She was stringing a necklace, threading a series of marbled blue spheres onto a thin leather cord. After a moment, she looked up. How was your walk? You said someone was coming to work on the greenhouse. You didnt say it was Andrew Greyson. Evvie shrugged. Didnt think it mattered. She peered at the beads shed just strung, adjusting several before looking up. Does it matter? I was just surprised to see him. I didnt know he was back. Almost three years now. Came back when his daddy got sick, and never left. Truth be told, I think he was looking for a reason. A reason? He knew where he belonged. Chicago never really agreed with him. Salem Creek did. Simple as that. How was your walk? Lizzy blinked at her. She had a habit of doing that, changing the subject so abruptly you werent sure youd been following the actual thread of the conversation. I ended up at the pond, she said quietly. Seeing it again, after all these years, started me thinking. All the hideous things people said, the things they believed . . . I cant help wondering if thats why Althea got sick. Maybe she just . . . gave up. Evvie laid down her cord of beads and shot a look over her glasses. Your gran never gave up on a thing in her life. You werent here, Evvie. You cant imagine what it was like, the way people looked at her after they pulled those girls up out of the water. And the worst part is nothings happened to change their minds. The people who believed it then still believe it. Maybe. But theres nothing to be done about it now. Once folks make up their minds, theres not much chance of changing them. Not without proof. What if there was proof? Evvie lifted her head. Where are you going with this, little girl? Lizzy scooped a bead from the saucer, letting it roll against the flat of her hand, deep sea-blue flecked with gold pyrite, like a tiny world resting in her palm. Lapis lazuli, for revealing hidden truths. She dropped the bead back into the saucer and met Evvies gaze. Last night you asked me why I was here, and I said I came back to handle Altheas personal effects, but the truth is I wasnt planning to come at all. Then I found a note from Althea tucked into the journal you sent me. She said I was the best of the Moons, and that there were things that needed mending. Maybe thats why Im hereto mend things. Mending things, Evvie repeated thoughtfully. What does that look like? Leave it to Evvie to jump straight to the thorny part of the equation. I dont know, exactly. But theres got to be something I can do, some way to find out what really happened, and clear Altheas name. Evvie slid her glasses off, a crease between her brows. You think so? I dont know, but its worth a try. Eight years isnt that long. Someone in this town knows something, maybe something they dont realize they know. Asking questions might jog some memories. Might jog a lot of things. Lizzy glowered at her. What does that mean? It means there are two sides to every sword. Youll be digging those girls up for everyone to look at all over again. Folks might not take kindly to that. Maybe not, but I cant tiptoe around the truth because it might make someone uncomfortable. I did that once. I stuck my head in the sand and let this town bully my grandmother. Im not doing that again. Evvie smothered a snort. Your gran said you were feisty. She wasnt lying. Do you think Im wrong? No, I dont. In fact, I know youre dead right. But what youre talking aboutpoking around, asking a lot of questionscould get messy, and the odds of getting at the truth are pretty low. I know. But when I leave here, Ill at least be able to say I tried. Evvie returned her glasses to the end of her nose and picked up the half-strung thong of beads. Any idea where you might start? Lizzy blew out a long breath, mulling the question seriously for the first time. I hadnt really gotten that far, but I suppose the police station is as good a place as any. I need to get a sense of where the police left things, and how open Chief Summers might be to reopening the investigation. Him, Evvie grunted. I know. Good luck getting any help on that front. But I need to try. Ill go tomorrowbefore I lose my nerve. Your gran would be proud. Lizzys throat tightened. How she wanted to believe that. Would she? Evvie reached across the table to give her fingers a squeeze. Dont you ever doubt it. Lizzy had plenty to think about as she slipped out the mudroom door with a pair of secateurs in her pocket and a basket over her arm. Evvie was right. Things would get messy when people found out she was back, and intent on raking up the murders. Salem Creek had always prided itself on its reputation, proud to be dubbed a true slice of Americana by Yankee magazine, and perennially named to New England Journals Best Tiny Towns list. But a pair of dead girls had put an end to that. She couldnt imagine the locals being particularly happy to be reminded of Salem Creeks abrupt fall from graceor that the blame had been laid squarely at her grandmothers door. But now that the idea of clearing Altheas name had taken root, there was no walking away. There were broken things that needed mendingand no one left but her to see to them. As she crossed the yard, she spotted Andrew down on one knee in front of the greenhouse, rooting through his toolbox. He lifted his head. Their eyes met briefly. Lizzy looked away, quickening her pace on the way to what remained of Altheas wildflower garden. Shed spotted a few blooms among the weeds and thought it might be nice to bring a few inside. The pickings were slim, not enough for a full arrangement, but they would do for a few small jars on the kitchen sill. She foraged through the overgrowth, gathering speedwell and cranes-bill, wild clary and musk mallow, dropping the blooms into her basket. She would have liked a few cornflowersthe deep blue would be a nice contrast to the pinks and fuchsiasbut there were none to be had. It made her sad to see this particular garden so neglected. Althea had always had a particular affinity for wildflowers, perhaps because they gave so much and asked so little. For those on the Pathoften dubbed pagans by the uninitiatedeverything was sentient, fully aware of its role in the divine circle of birth, growth, life, and death. Althea had taken comfort in that, in the tides and seasons that made up their year, the belief that nothing was wasted or useless, that everything had a time and a purpose, and when that time was over, that purpose fulfilled, their essence lived on, and embraced some new purpose. It was why the Moons chose to scatter their ashes on their own land, so that a part of them would always live on in the soil. Lizzy had never given much thought to the custom but took comfort in the knowledge that Althea had become an enduring part of the ground beneath her feet. Still, she deserved better than a dismal patch of weed-choked earth. She ran an eye around the garden. It wouldnt take much, a few hours and a handful of tools. Maybe it was sillylike Andrew repairing the greenhousebut it felt right somehow, a labor of love for the woman who had raised her when her mother couldnt be bothered. Before Lizzy could talk herself out of it, she was crossing the field toward the drying barn, where Althea kept an assortment of rakes and spades. She dragged the crossbar from its bracket and yanked at the door. It gave finally, with a rusty groan. She stepped inside, inhaling the ghosts of a thousand harvested flowers. They were gone now, the drying racks and screen frames all empty, but their memories remained, hovering like spirits in the cool, dry air. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust, but eventually she was able to make out shapes in the gloom. The tools she had come for hung just inside the door, but she ignored them, moving instead to the long wooden counter along the back wall, where she used to make her perfumes. It was an amateurs work space, a dusty collection of borrowed supplies and makeshift equipment, but seeing it again made her strangely nostalgic. The truth was she missed those early days of trial and error, the delicious serendipity of discovering something new and utterly unexpected. There werent many surprises at Chenier. In fact, she rarely set foot in a lab these days, spending the bulk of her time on conference calls or in meetings, collaborating with people who didnt know a floral from an oriental. Lizzy pushed the thought aside. Shed been incredibly lucky to catch the eye of Jaqueline Chenier straight out of school, and land a job most thought her too young and inexperienced to handle. She should be gratefuland she was. She absolutely was. But shed be lying if she said there wasnt a certain wistfulness to being back in the barn. Tools, she reminded herself sternly as she stepped away from the counter. Shed come for tools, not a walk down memory lane. She grabbed a pitchfork and was reaching for a hoe when a shadow darkened the doorway. She turned, startled to find Andrew silhouetted in the opening. You shouldnt be in here. She stared at him, pulse skittering. Thats the second time youve snuck up on me today. I didnt sneak up on youthen or now. And Id appreciate it if youd put that thing down. Youre making me nervous. Lizzy glanced down at the pitchfork she was holding, dismayed to find it pointing straight at Andrew, as if she were preparing to run him through. She lowered it slowly, annoyed with herself for being so skittish. Did you need something? Yes, I need you to come out of there, please. It isnt safe. Lizzy performed a quick scan of the barn, finding nothing that looked remotely hazardous. What do you mean, its not safe? It looks fine. Well, for starters, this door is about to come off its hinges. Youre lucky it didnt flatten you when you opened it. And therehe paused, pointing to the apex of the roof, where a slice of sunlight was visible through a chink in the boardswe had a storm back in April, pulled up part of the roof, and damaged several trusses. Plus, the loft and stairs are ready to give. Thats not from the storm, just good old-fashioned dry rot. New England barns are built to last, but not forever. Also, we had a colony of bats last summer, and they tend to come back. Lizzy eyed him as she edged toward the door. He smelled of amber and sandalwood, of crisp fall days with the hint of smoke underneath. The combination caught her off guardnot flagrant, but subtly masculine, nudging at memories she preferred to keep buried. He had always smelled like that. Always. She tipped her head back, noting the smear of caulk in his hair as she sidled past. Bats dont scare me. In fact, I find them rather cute. But I draw the line at collapsing roofs. Andrew followed her out, easing the door closed behind him. Its on the list. The list? Things I promised your grandmother Id do. I wanted to get them done before . . . He looked away, shoulders hunched. I ran out of time. Lizzy swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. Me too. She was quite a lady, your grandmother. I had just started working when my father was diagnosed. I was new to the firm and had just landed this big project, so he kept it to himself. Didnt say a word about being sick until the very end. But your grandmother knewor guessed. She cooked for him and kept the house clean, drove him to treatments, and made him this special tea to ease the nausea. Stubborn old goat. I didnt find out until the doctors pulled the plug on his chemo. But Althea was there for all of it. I owe her for that. Lizzy managed a fleeting smile, a mix of pride and grief. Althea didnt tell me she was sick either. I didnt find out until she was gone. I wondered why you didnt come to see her. Im sorry. I know its hard. I was furious with my father for not telling me, but he honestly thought keeping me in the dark was the right thing to do. Your grandmother must have thought so too. Lizzy pretended to study the barn door, eager to change the subject. Its nice of you to want to help, but the new owners will probably have their own ideas about what to fix. Andrew stiffened. You sold the farm? Not yet, but eventually. His shoulders seemed to relax, though not completely. Yeah. About that. There are a few things you should know. Such as? The place is going to need work before a bank will think twice about financing, and Im not talking about a coat of paint and some tulips in the window boxes. The house wirings tricky on a good day, and the plumbing isnt much better. The furnace is hanging by a thread, and every roof on the property needs replacing. Lizzy stared down at the toes of her boots, registering this unwelcome bit of news. One more complication she hadnt planned for. And couldnt afford. I had no idea things were that bad. I dont suppose any of thats going to be cheap. Im not exactly rolling in cash. Andrew shot her a crooked smile. Im afraid not. But I know a guy. Friend of the family. Lives close by. Will work for food and the occasional kind word. Lizzy squared her shoulders. Thanks, but I couldnt accept that. A few panes of glass is one thing, but I cant let you rewire the house and redo the plumbing. Historic renovation is sort of my thing. Why not let me help? Lizzy held up a hand, cutting him off. No. Thank you. Ill figure something out. Maybe I can find a cash buyer to take the place as is. She lifted her chin, meeting his gaze squarely. I dont mean to sound callous, but why would you want to waste your time? We hardly know each other. He offered a half smile and a bit of a shrug. Because I told your grandmother I would, and a promise is a promise. I owe her. You cant owe her. Shes gone. Then I guess I owe you. Lizzy found herself at a loss for words. She couldnt help thinking about her conversation with Luc two days ago, his glib assertion that when he inherited Chenier Fragrances, Ltd., hed inherited her too, as if she were some shiny trinket in his mothers jewelry box. And here was Andrew, telling her a promise he made to Althea was a promise he now owed to her. The contrast was hard to ignore. You dont inherit promises, she said quietly. It doesnt work like that. He shrugged, smiling again. My promise. My rules. Ill nail the door shut before I leave, just to be on the safe side. Ive got a load of wood coming next week. As soon as I finish the greenhouse, Ill get started on the loft. I just told youtheres no money to pay you. And I cant ask you to work for free. Your grandmother was a special woman, Lizzy. She had a great big heart, and she used it to take care of people. Not everyone understood that, and toward the end, even the people who knew her forgot it. Im not one of those people. Im repairing the greenhouse and the barn for the same reason youre about to carry a pitchfork into that wreck of a garden. I cant bring Althea back, or change how things went down, but I can do this for herI can look after the things she cared about. Lizzy fought the urge to look away, rattled by the sudden intensity in his voice. Or maybe it was his kindness that made her feel so defensive. Hed been with Althea at the end, where she should have been. He had to have an opinion about that. It isnt that I dont care, Andrew. I do. But I cant stay. I know what you think. I know what Evvie thinks too. But I have a jobin New York. She shook her head, hating that she felt the need to defend herself. Althea was Moon Girl Farm. Im not. Thats why Im selling. Because it should belong to someone wholl love it the way she did. Andrew scrubbed his knuckles over the stubble along his jaw, as if weighing his next words carefully. What about Rhanna? She doesnt want it? Lizzy stiffened at the mention of her mothers name. We havent heard from her in years. I think its safe to say she isnt interested. Sorry. I didnt know. Althea didnt mention her much. The last we knew she was in California somewhere, singing for her supper. And god only knew what else. She didnt say the last part out loud. She didnt need to. Everyone in town knew Rhannas story. The drinking and the drugs. The revolving door of one-night stands. The frequent run-ins with police. And Andrew knew better than most, since hed seen it firsthand. Lizzy tightened her grip on the pitchfork, trying to fend off the memories. They came anyway. A crowd at the Dairy Bar on a sticky summer night. Families with children. Kids from school looking for a place to hang out on a Friday night. A ruckus at the back of the line. People scurrying, moving like a school of minnows, across the parking lot and around the corner. She had followed them, because thats what you did when people started running. When she rounded the corner, there was a police car in front of city hall, blue lights strobing dizzily. A burst of laughter. A smattering of catcalls. A prickle of dread as the crowd peeled apart. And then Rhanna, stripped down to her panties and knee-deep in the fountain, belting out Me and Bobby McGee at the top of her lungs. One of the officers kicked off his shoes and waded in after her, chasing her around in circles until he was red-faced and panting. It had taken a full fifteen minutes, but finally she was hauled from the fountain, high as a kite and still singing as they wrapped her in a blanket and folded her into the squad car. A wave of relief had washed over Lizzy as she watched the black-and-white pull away. The spectacle was over. Only it wasnt. There was a boy from school, a football player named Brad or Brett, who spotted her in the crowd. He rounded on her, pointing with an outstretched arm. Hey, thats her kid! Maybe shes next! What are you gonna sing, sweetheart? More laughter. More pointing. She had wanted to melt into the pavement then and there, to run, to die. But her feet wouldnt move. And then, out of nowhere, there was a hand on her elbow, steering her through the crowd, down the street, around the corner. She finally yanked her arm free and stood glaring at her rescuerthe boy from next door, whose father did odd jobs for her grandmother, the guy with the grin and the Twizzlers. Hed meant to be kind, to spare her from further humiliation, but his face, thinly lit from the streetlamp overhead, was full of pity, and she had hated him for it. Shed told him so too, before leaving him standing alone on the sidewalk. Shed been humiliated twice that night. The first time by a crowd of jeering onlookers, the second by someone trying to show her kindness. Strangely, it was the latter that stung most, which was why, from that day on, she had redoubled her efforts to avoid him. Growing up a Moon had prepared her for pointing and whispers. Kindness, not so much. And here he was, being kind again, looking at her the way he had that night under the streetlamp, dredging up emotions shed just as soon not feel. I have to go, she said, hoisting the pitchfork up onto her shoulder. I have things to do. Let him think what he wanted. If shed learned anything over the years, it was not to let herself care what anyone else thought. But as she turned and walked away, she couldnt help wondering what hed think if he knew she was planning to pay the police chief a visit. SEVEN July 19 Lizzy drove slowly through Salem Creeks downtown district, strategizing how best to approach Chief Summers. Not much had changed since shed left, not that she was surprised. Progress came slowly to small New England towns. No malls or big-box centers needed. Which was precisely how the locals liked it. Sleepy streets lined with small mom-and-pop shops, window boxes brimming with geraniums, hand-lettered chalkboards advertising daily specials, and water bowls on the sidewalk for thirsty pups. It was New England charm at its best, even if it did tend toward shabby in places. But progress hadnt halted completely. There was a new farm-to-table caf? on the corner of Elm Street, and a bookstore where the dry cleaners used to be. The library had a brand-new addition, and a tattoo parlor named Inkys had taken over the old Cut and Dry Salon. She turned onto Third Street, lined with a sprawl of redbrick buildings that housed Salem Creeks public safety complex. As expected, the lot in front of the police station was nearly empty. Aside from the odd double homicide, Salem Creek enjoyed a fairly low crime rate. The desk sergeant glanced up as she pushed through the tinted glass doors. Can I help you? I was hoping to speak with Chief Summers. Lizzy glanced at his name badge. Sergeant Oberlin. He was rake thin, all but swimming in his crisp black uniform, his cheeks pocked with recent acne scars. He ran his tongue over his teeth, surveying her with a comical air of self-importance. Is it regarding a police matter, maam? This is the police station, isnt it? The sergeant colored slightly. Yes, maam. Good. And yes, it is a police matter. Its regarding a murder. Well, two murders, actually. Oberlins eyes shot wide. Murders? Lizzy smiled blandly, satisfied that she had his full attention. Its about an old casethe Gilman murders. Can you spell that? Lizzy fought the urge to roll her eyes. Before she could respond, a beefy captain with hair the color of steel wool appeared behind the counter. Ive got this, Todd. Im sorry, Miss . . . Moon, Lizzy supplied. Elzibeth Moon. Yes, of course. Miss Moon. Did I hear you inquiring about the Gilman murders? You did. Im here to speak with Chief Summers about the investigation. The . . . investigation? The blank look on the captains face confirmed what Lizzy already suspected. There was no investigation. Is the police chief in? The sergeant cleared his throat, managing a tight smile. Im afraid the chief is tied up right now, but if youll share the nature of your inquiry with me, Id be happy to pass it along. That wont be necessary, Lizzy told him, strolling to the row of plastic chairs along the wall and dropping into one. Ill wait. This clearly wasnt the hoped-for response. But Miss . . . ? Moon, she repeated coolly. Im Althea Moons granddaughter, and Id appreciate it if youd tell the chief Im here to see him at his earliest convenience. The captain seemed to sense defeat. Lizzy watched him disappear through the same door hed used to enter, wondering how long hed be gone before returning with a new excuse. Instead, Randall Summers appeared. Lizzy stiffened instinctively. He was tall and square, but no longer the well-cut figure hed been when she left. He was thicker through the middle now, his navy blazer snug across the chest, his khaki slacks worn low, to compensate for a budding paunch. And his hair was a peculiar shade of blond, no doubt straight out of a box purchased at the drugstore. He reminded her of an aging game show host. Miss Moon, he said, offering a nicotine-stained smile as he pumped her hand. No one told me you were back. She looked up at him, unsmiling. Should someone have told you? No, I just meant . . . with your grandmother dying, we sort of expected you to turn up. Then when you didnt, we assumed . . . He let his words trail, leaving Lizzy to wonder exactly who we might be, and what they had assumed. I only arrived two days ago. Im here because I have some questions about where the Gilman case stands. Summers shot her an oily grin. He reeked of breath mints and last nights merlot. Lets step outside, shall we? I need a smoke, and you cant do that indoors these days. Lizzy followed him out onto the front walkway. He fished a pack of Marlboro menthols from his jacket pocket, along with a heavy silver lighter, then held the pack out to her. No. Thank you. I dont smoke. The Gilman investigation, she prompted when he had taken his first long drag. Where do things stand? Summers looked faintly annoyed as he pushed out a column of smoke. They dont stand at all, Miss Moon. There is no investigation, as such. But you never found the killer. He threw her a sidelong glance as he took another pull from his cigarette. No one was ever charged, thats true. Summerss inference was clear. As far as he was concerned, he had found the killer; he just hadnt been able to make the case. Now, with Althea dead, he considered the matter put to bed. So thats it? Youre done looking? He narrowed his eyes on her, his ruddy cheeks more florid than theyd been a moment ago. Its been eight years since those girls came up out of your grandmothers pond, Miss Moon. Eight years, an anonymous tip, a pair of voodoo dolls, and an empty vial from your grandmothers shop in one of the girls pockets. Thats where we are. No prints, no murder weapon. Just two dead girls and your grandmothers pond. Where else do you suggest we look? Or maybe you have a crystal ball we could borrow. Lizzy held his gaze, unflinching. If he was trying to push her buttons, he was wasting his time. There wasnt a clich? she hadnt heard over the yearsand learned to ignore. Nor was she surprised by his attitude. Hed never hidden his belief in Altheas guilt, or his feelings about the Moons in general. Prejudices that were likely greased by his priggish wife, Miriam, who served as organist at the First Congregational Church and had been in the front row of the so-called prayer vigil for Heather and Darcy Gilman, throwing around words like heathenry and godlessness for the TV cameras. Can you tell me the last time you made any kind of inquiries? Spoke to anyone about what they might remember around the time the girls went missing? Its been . . . some time. Does that mean months? Years? Summers flicked his cigarette into the parking lot and squared his shoulders. This is Salem Creek, Miss Moon, not New York City. Were a small town, with a small police force, and even smaller coffers. That means we have to pick and choose how we allocate our resources. And if youll pardon me for being blunt, I have better things to do with those resources than squander them on an eight-year-old case thats every bit as cold as those girls. Lizzy gaped at him, stunned by his callousness. As far as he was concerned, the Gilman girls were nothing but a case number, something to be checked off a list, a matter of resources spent. She pulled in a breath, counted to ten. Shed come to ask for his assistance. Losing her temper wouldnt help. Im sure its terrible for you, Chief Summers. But I have no budget. And, as you might guess, I have my own reasons for wanting to know what happened to those girls. Id like to think that as the chief of police, getting to the truth is just as important to you as it is to me. Of course it is. I take my duties to this community very seriously. Then you wont mind if I do a little asking around on my own, about what people may remember from that time? As a matter of fact, I do mind. He was simmering now, throwing off the scent of hot metal as he struggled to tamp down his anger. This town was turned upside down when those girls disappeared. It was like a circus. Media crawling all over the place, talking about serial killers and god knows what else. It was five years before you could sell a piece of property in this town. And dont pretend you dont know what I mean, because we both know you do. Call it superstition, but when people get a whiff of that sort of thing, they run the other way. Its taken years, but things are finally back to normal around here, and I dont need you poking your nose in, stirring up things folks would just as soon forget. And what about the Gilmans? How do you think they feel, knowing whoever killed their daughters is walking free? Do you honestly think they give a damn about their property values? I assure you, Miss Moon, if I could have brought a case against the killer, I would have done so years ago. I understand your stake in all of this, but its pointless now, isnt it? Your grandmothers gone, and so are those girls. And nothing you or anyone else does is going to bring them back. Sometimes justice takes care of itself. Why not do us all a favor and leave the dead buried? It took everything Lizzy had not to fly at him. Hed as good as admitted that Althea had done him a favor by dying, bringing things to a tidy end. And maybe it had ended for him. But it hadnt for her. Id like to speak to the detective in charge of the case. Summers let out a sigh, clearly weary of the conversation. As Ive already stated, the case was closed years ago. As for Roger Coleman, he left the department a few years back. Bit of an odd bird, Coleman. Pot stirrer, some would say. I dont think anyones heard from him since he moved away. Moved away where? Summers shrugged. No idea. He stopped being my problem the day he turned in his badge. Now, if youll excuse me, I have a luncheon with Mayor Cavanaugh. Hes retiring after seventeen years, and Id like to pay my respects. He was reaching for the door when Lizzy stopped him. It was a long shot, but she had to ask. I dont suppose youd let me look at the case file? You suppose correctly. He nodded then, coolly polite, and was gone. Lizzy didnt realize she was trembling until she got back behind the wheel. Summers had been about as helpful as expected, and twice as loathsome, but she hadnt come away empty-handed. She had a nameRoger Coleman. Now all she needed to do was find him. Her cell phone went off as she pulled out of the parking lot. Luc. She clicked the hands-free to answer. Whats up? I was going to ask you the same thing. Hows it going? Its going. When are you coming back? I just got here. I know. I just figured youd be itching to get out of there. He chuckled dryly. Ghosts of your past, and all that. Lizzy blew out a breath. Ghosts indeed. Theres been a development, Luc. Two, actually. This trip might end up taking a little longer than I expected. Apparently, the house needs a ton of work. According to Andrew, Ill be lucky to sell it at all. Whos Andrew? A neighbor, and a friend of my grandmothers. Hes also an architect. He rattled off a list of repairs as long as my arm. Im not sure how Im going to swing any of it. So dont. Knock it all down and be done with it. You can sell it as unimproved property. Plus the taxes go down. Boom, problem solved. Problem solved? Selling the farm was one thing. Razing it to the ground was something else entirely. I grew up here! And if I remember correctly, you couldnt wait to leave. His response chafed. Not just his words, but the callous way hed flung them at her. You dont have a sentimental bone in your body, do you? I never claimed to. Its part of my charm. But while were on the subject of sentiment, Andrew the Architect wouldnt happen to be one of the developments, would he? The question took Lizzy by surprise. Why would you ask that? Just curious. There was a long pause, the sound of desk drawers opening and closing, and then finally, as an afterthought: I miss you. No, you dont. How do you know? You just told me you didnt have a sentimental bone in your body. Luc conceded the point by changing the subject. You didnt answer the question. This Andrew whos being so helpfulare we talking old flame or what? No, were not. Hes just someone I used to know. Hes doing some work for my grandmother. Your grandmothers dead. Lizzy bit back a sigh. Its a long story, and I really dont feel like getting into it now. Fine. Just as long as hes not thinking of poaching my new creative director. You mentioned a second development, and youve assured me it isnt Andrew. So what is it? Lizzy bit her lip, kicking herself for not having been more guarded. What was she supposed to say? Im trying to clear my grandmother of murder? Its nothing, she said finally. Just some legal stuff I need to clean up. Okay, so not a complete lie. Technically, a double murder did qualify as legal stuff. Like I said, it might take longer than I thought. Are we talking days? Weeks? I dont know. But I have some time saved up, and Im going to need to use it. Luc was silent a moment. Lizzy could hear the steady tap-tap of his pen on the desk, his go-to gesture when annoyed. I think you need to keep all this in perspective, he said finally. Just do what you need to do and get out of there. I promise itll be a relief when its over, like closing one chapter so a new one can begin. Lizzys knuckles went white as she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Is that how you felt when your mother died? Relieved? More silence. More tapping. People die, babe. Its a fact of life. Theres no reason to feel guilty about selling something that belongs to you. Get on with it, and come home. Maybe it was the way he insisted on calling her babe, when shed asked him a hundred times to stop, or his complete lack of empathy, but Lizzy suddenly needed to end the call. Now, before she said something she couldnt take back. Look, I need to go. Im in the car and traffic is crazy. Lizzy Ill call you when I know more. EIGHT Lizzy was still stewing over her conversation with Luc when she turned into the drive and spotted a white utility pickup parked near the top. The words ANDREW GREYSON, ARCHITECT were emblazoned on both doors. She remembered Andrew saying he had ordered some wood for the barn. Presumably, hed come to deliver it. She shielded her eyes as she climbed out of the car, scanning the property for a glimpse of him. Instead, she spotted a man in worn gray coveralls coming toward her. He was tall and burly, and looked vaguely familiar. Lizzy racked her brain, finally coming up with a name. Or at least a last name. The Hanleys had been neighbors once upon a time, their land bordering Moon Girl Farm to the north. Not that theyd ever been a particularly neighborly family. Especially the old man, who drank heavily and was rarely seen in town. Thered been two boysHollis and Dennisa year apart in age and thick as thieves. Shed never known them well enough to tell them apart, but if she were guessing, shed say it was Dennisthe older brothernow coming toward her. He hadnt changed much over the years. A bit thicker through the neck, perhaps, but his hair was still the color of young corn, his eyes the same unsettling pale blue. Lizzy offered a polite wave as he approached. Hanley ignored the gesture as he marched past, leaving a pungent sillage of copper, salt, and stagnant water in his wake, like a mud flat at low tide. How was it possible no one else smelled it? She took shallow breaths as she watched him gather up an armful of lumber, presumably for the barn repairs Andrew was planning. She forced a smile as he hoisted a half dozen two-by-fours up onto his shoulder. If you tell me how much I owe you, Ill write you a check. Hanley shot her a glare, sidestepping her again. Didnt send no invoice. Just told me to drop the stuff off. Lizzy watched as he headed back to the barn and dumped the wood onto the existing pile in front of the door. He was huffing by the time he returned. She waited for some sort of acknowledgment that he was through. Instead, he slammed the tailgate, climbed into the truck, and left her standing in a cloud of dust. Lizzy watched as he disappeared down the drive, unable to shake the stench of him. Or the hard glint in his eyes when hed looked at her. There might be a tattoo parlor and a brand-new caf? downtown, but Dennis Hanleys snub made it clear that some things in Salem Creek would never change. She was still scowling when she spotted Evvie prowling what remained of the vegetable garden in her faded chintz apron. The garden was nothing like it used to be, but it had fared better than much of the farm, and still boasted a decent selection of berries and vegetables. Evvie dropped a fistful of string beans into her apron pocket and looked up, appraising Lizzy through narrowed eyes. You look like someone ran over your best pig. Lizzy scowled at her. I look like . . . what? Its something my daddy used to say. It means down in the mouth. I take it things didnt go well with the chief. Thats one way to put it. Apparently, the case was closed years ago, and he has no intention of reopening it. His exact words were sometimes justice takes care of itself. Evvies expression hardened. How did you leave it? I told him I was going to do a little asking around. Im sure he loved hearing that. Not really, no. He made it pretty clear that hed like me to leave it alone. Gave me some line about property values and scaring people off. I asked to talk to the detective who was in charge of the investigationRoger Coleman was his namebut hes apparently moved away. According to Summers, no ones heard from him since he quit the force. Evvie grunted, scraping dirt from under her nails. Shows how much he knows. Lizzy caught her by the wrist. What does that mean? It means theres someone who knows exactly where that man went, and he happens to live right next door. Lizzy looked in the direction of Evvies crooked thumb. Andrew? Mmm-hmmm. Came over one day a couple years back and asked your gran if she had a problem with him renovating the detectives new house. Said he wouldnt take the job if she didnt want him to. He meant it too. But you know Althea. She said the man was just doing his job, and that hed never been anything but polite while doing it. So he took the job? Far as I know. But if you want to know for sure, go knock on his door and ask. Things had definitely changed at the Greyson place. The bedraggled hedge that had once threatened to swallow the house whole had been yanked out, replaced by a terraced garden blooming with dahlias, helenium, and bright-orange daylilies. The house itself was also undergoing changes. There was an addition going up on one side, with large windows, a fieldstone chimney, and a wraparound deck that would look out over the hills when it was finished. Andrew had obviously decided to put his own stamp on the place when his father passed away. Lizzy followed the walkway to the front door, surprised to find it standing open. The sound of hammering echoed from somewhere inside. She knocked, then called out over the steady banging. Hello? Andrew? The hammering stopped. Andrew appeared moments later, clearly surprised to see her in the doorway. Hey. He paused, wiping his face on his sleeve, then brushed a smattering of sawdust from his hair. Whats up? Lizzy hesitated as she noted the state of the house. The furniture had been removed, the floor strewn with heavy canvas drop cloths. I can come back if youre busy. Dont you dare. I was looking for an excuse to knock off. Come on in. The air was sharp with the smell of freshly cut wood and the sticky-sweet fumes of varnish. Youre remodeling, she said, as she moved deeper into the room. I noticed the gardens out front. Theyre beautiful. Id put down some fresh mulch, though. Itll cut down on the need to water, and help keep the weeds down. You sound like your grandmother. She wrote it all down for me, by the way. In fact, the whole thing was her design. Im a wiz with walls and wiring, but when it comes to the outside stuff, Im clueless. You want the tour? Lizzy followed him into the kitchen, where the new floorboards were littered with sawdust. It was large and open, with a cooking island in the center and wide windows that opened out onto the new deck. The appliances were state-of-the-art stainless, the lighting updated with recessed canisters, the cabinets fashioned of some satiny dark wood. Its going to be gorgeous when youre finished, she told him, running an admiring hand over one of the cabinet doors. I love the wood. I still need to decide on the granite. Care to weigh in? He pulled a trio of samples from the top of the refrigerator and held them out. Ive narrowed it to three. Lizzy glanced around the kitchen, then back at the samples. After a moment she took the middle samplethe lightest of the threeand held it up against one of the cabinet doors. This one, she said, handing it back. The creamy background will brighten up the room, while the dark veins pull the wood and stainless together. Done, madam. But be warned, I may consult you again when its time to choose the hardware. Oh, speaking of which, did Dennis deliver the wood for the barn? He did. Though I wasnt a hundred percent sure it was Dennis. I never could tell the two of them apart. Yup. Definitely Dennis. He works the night shift at the meatpacking plant, but does delivery and odd jobs for me a couple days a week. Hes not very friendly, is he? Andrew shook his head. Im afraid not, but dont take it personally. Hes been worse since his brother died. Hollis died? Two years ago. Car crash out on Route 125, not long after he got back from Afghanistan. Poor guy couldnt catch a break. He was always a little slow, but Dennis looked out for him. They enlisted together and assumed theyd be stationed together, but it didnt work out that way. Hollis had a rough time on his own. Came back a mess. I think Dennis feels responsible for the way things went. Im pretty sure thats why he took the job with me, so he could help Holliss wife. Oh no. He was married? He was. Married Bonnie Markhams youngest daughter, Helen. The baby was barely a year when he died. A little girl named Kayla. Shes about three now, I think. Lizzy shook her head, grieved by the thought of a little girl growing up without her father, a young wife without her husband. How awful. But its good of Dennis to look after his brothers family. I wouldnt have thought him the type, but then I should know better than to judge. She glanced at the granite sample still in her hand. Shed forgotten she was holding it. She handed it back, feeling timid suddenly. I came to ask for a favor. Okay, shoot. I went to talk to Randall Summers today about the Gilman case. Seriously? The look on his face said it all. I know. Why dredge all that up again? I swear, I never meant to. But now that Im here, all I can think about is how awful it must have been for Althea, knowing people believed her capable of . . . She looked away, leaving it to Andrew to fill in the blanks. I thought he might be able to tell me something new. Andrew pursed his lips thoughtfully. I get you wanting to clear Altheas name. Im just surprised you thought Summers would be willing to help. Hes certainly been no friend to the Moons over the years. Maybe, but I had to start somewhere. And youre right. He isnt willing to help. He hung around just long enough to tell me I was wasting my time. Then he hurried off to some luncheon with the mayor. Of course he did. Why of course? Summers has been counting the days until Cavanaugh either retires or dies. And last week it became official. The mayors packing it in, heading to North Carolina and the grandkids. Your chances were never good, but with an election looming youve got zero chance of getting help from Salem Creeks finest. Which brings me to the favor I mentioned. She stepped away, wandering toward the window to peer out. I asked to talk to the detective who headed up the case. Summers told me he left the force several years ago and moved away. He also claims no one knows where he went. But Evvie thinks you might. Roger. Lizzy turned away from the window, suddenly hopeful. Yes! Do you know how I can get in touch with him? An address or a phone number? Andrew scrubbed a hand through his hair, clearly weighing his response. I have both, though I doubt hed be thrilled with me for sharing either. Hes a private investigator now, works for his brother in Dover. I could give him a call, though, ask if hed be willing to speak with you. He might not be. I have a hunch his memories of the Salem Creek PD are far from happy. Call him. Please. I just want to ask a few questions, see if anything new comes up. Itll probably come to nothing, but its worth a conversation. He studied her a moment, head tilted to one side, as if trying to work out a riddle. Im curious about something. Earlier, you said you never wanted to dig all this up. Now youre talking about kicking over rocks and turning Salem Creek upside down. Thats quite a swing. I know it is. And I wish I could explain it. The truth is I dont know what happened. I was so angry when I left. So angry I swore Id never set foot in this town again. Yet here you are. She nodded. Here I am. Its a long way from New York. In more ways than one. Lizzy shrugged, knowing her answer would sound ridiculous to someone like Andrew. Or anyone, really. I feel safe in New York. I know that probably sounds strange, but its easier to be anonymous there, just another face in a crowd of millions, where everyone has a story, but no one has time to ask. Im sure that makes no sense to you. Youve never wanted to disappear, to just be invisible, but I haveand still do sometimes. Well, I can tell you one thing for sure. The last thing youll be, once you start asking questions about those murders, is invisible. I know that. But sometimes you have to come out of hiding, dont you? To stand up for whats right? I cant help thinking that maybe if I hadnt tried so hard to be invisible when the feeding frenzy started, it might have made a difference. Instead, I hid and just let it all happen. Lizzy, you cant blame yourself for what happened. This is Salem Creek. People dont get murdered here; they die of boredom and old age. This town lost its mind when those girls turned up dead. They were afraid, and fear makes people do crazy things, sometimes shameful things. What happened to Althea was like a brush fire. It swallowed this town whole. It certainly swallowed my grandmother. And you. Yes, Lizzy said quietly. And me. Youre not afraid of reigniting it? I am, actually. But not as afraid of leaving here knowing I didnt even try to get to the truth. Althea deserves that, even if I am eight years too late. Ill call Roger in the morning. I cant guarantee anything, but hes a decent guy. He took the job seriously, but he and Summers were always butting heads. No one was surprised when he left to join his brothers law firm as an investigator. He could be helpful, but like I said, I have no clue how hell respond. Given his history with Summers, he might want to steer clear. Lizzy nodded. Only a fool would want to wade back into such a grisly mess. Thank you. No matter what he says, I appreciate your help. Ill wait to hear from you. NINE July 21 Lizzys stomach knotted as Andrew turned onto Dover Point Road. Roger Coleman had agreed to speak with her, but with two stipulations: Andrew would be present for the interview, and he would under no circumstances be expected to interact with Randall Summers. It seemed Andrew had been right about the friction between the detective and his ex-chief. She wasnt sure what her reaction would be to seeing the detective again. She wasnt crazy about the idea of being face-to-face with the man who had knocked on their door with a search warrant in his pocket. But it was too late to back out now. They were pulling into a narrow drive lined with tall, wind-battered pines. The lot was deep and shady, a pie-shaped parcel snugged up against the shore of Little Bay. The house was a small one, a single-story, slate-blue cape with crisp white shutters. In the side yard, a sailboat sat up on blocks, presumably in some stage of repair. Lizzy left her purse on the seat and got out. She wasnt prepared when Roger Coleman suddenly rose from an upended milk crate beside the sailboats hull. She braced herself as he approached. She remembered him being tall, polite but imposing, with dark, close-cropped hair and a sharp, narrow jaw. He hadnt changed much over the years. He was still tall, still angular, and still a little imposing, despite the fact that his hair was now threaded with silver, and he had traded his crisp khakis and blazer for loose-fitting jeans and a holey T-shirt. Andrew was all smiles as he extended a hand. Still working on the old hulk, I see. Roger grinned as he pumped Andrews hand. Shell be ready for canvas soon. With any luck, Ill have her in the water before the docks come out. His chest puffed proudly as he hiked a thumb over his shoulder. I even got around to naming her. It was a smallish boat, not more than thirty feet, with a single mast and a faded blue hull. Lizzy squinted to make out the letters stenciled across the stern. SLEUTH JOHN B. It was a play on the old Beach Boys song, and fitting given his profession, though it was hard to imagine a man of Colemans considerable height folding himself into what would have to be a very tiny cabin. Lizzy brought her eyes back to Coleman. She dipped her head when Andrew introduced her, unable to muster a smile as she extended her hand. She caught a whiff of polished shoes and freshly ironed cotton, which fit perfectly with a by-the-book detective. But there was something else, a faint trace of wet leaves, that felt at odds with the rest. It was a dark, slick smell, one shed always associated with grief or sadness, but when she forced herself to meet his gaze, she saw nothing that hinted at either. Perhaps her radar was off. Thank you for agreeing to see me, Detective. Coleman studied her with eyes that were neither silver nor green, but somewhere in between. Lizzy remembered those eyes: sharp and unsettlingly steady, in no hurry to move on until theyd taken full measure. Roger, he corrected evenly. Its just Roger. He invited them inside and poured them each a glass of iced tea, then gave Lizzy a quick tour, pointing out the renovations Andrew had completed two years ago. The wall hed knocked down between the living room and kitchen, the pass-through window out onto the porch, the bank of skylights in the living room. When the pleasantries were complete, they wandered out onto the deck. Behind the house, the bay stretched lazily in the afternoon sun, silvery and still at nearly high tide. Lizzy lifted her face, grateful for the breeze coming in off the water. So, Roger said when they had all settled into chairs. Andrew tells me youre on a mission. Lizzy glanced at Andrew, who was swirling the ice in his glass and gazing out over the water. He had set up the meeting and agreed to accompany her, but it was her show now. Yes, I suppose thats what youd call it. She paused, not sure how to begin. My grandmother didnt hurt those girls, she said finally. But someone did, and if theres a way to find out who it was, I want to try. He studied her again with those gray-green eyes. You realize the odds of turning up anything new are slimthat all youre likely to do is remind everyone what they thought, and why they thought it? I do. And you still want to do this? I do. Even if you learn something you dont want to know? She knew what he was asking. In his mind, there was a chance that in her search for truth, she might actually uncover evidence that implicated Althea rather than exonerating her. But he didnt know what she didthat Althea was incapable of harming anyone, let alone a pair of young girls. I wont. He nodded coolly, willing for now to accept her at her word. Well then, what do you want to know? Why did you leave the department? Roger blinked back at her, clearly surprised by the question. Because it was time. It was evasive, a polite way of telling her it was none of her business. But if she was going to trust him, she needed to know his story, and understand what had prompted him to walk away from what had surely been the biggest case of his career. So you retired? Officially? No. He squinted out over the water, where a red-and-white sailboat bobbed lazily at anchor. I quit. Because I was no longer able to be effective. I dont know what that means. It means Chief Summers and I had different ideas about the departments responsibility to the public. He wanted to make the Gilman case go away, and I wanted to keep digging until we solved it. Colemans matter-of-fact tone surprised her. You dont think he wanted to solve it? In the beginning, maybe. When he was getting tons of press. Big man with his name in the paper, always available for an interview. Then the coverage turned ugly, and he slammed on the brakes. He started cutting man-hours, hamstringing us on resources, wouldnt sign off on sending stuff to the state lab because it wasnt in the budget. And the press was strictly off limits. All statements had to be cleared by him. It felt funny. Hed always been a bit of a tyrant, but this felt like something else. What did it feel like? Like there was something going on that the rest of us didnt know about. Did you confront him? You dont confront Randall Summers. But I did voice my concerns. And what happened? He shrugged. I bought a sailboat and went to work for my brother. Ah . . . right. Dont get me wrong. I like the work Im doing now. Its useful. But law enforcement was in my blood. I know it sounds corny, like Im some kind of Boy Scout or something, but its how Ive always felt about the job. I think its how most of us feel. Were proud of what we do. Because we believe were making a difference. He paused, looking back out over the bay, at a father and son horsing around in a bass boat. He was smiling when he turned back, but it faded quickly. Some of us give our lives to the job. The job doesnt always return the favor. Lizzy glanced back into the house. She hadnt noted it until now, but there was no sign of a woman about the place, and no ring on his finger. Single? Divorced? She recalled the trace of wet leaves shed picked up earlier, and found herself wondering if Roger Coleman had given up somethingor someonefor the job, and if the choice had been worth it. Andrew had been idly swirling his tea, ice cubes rattling rhythmically against the glass. He set it down now, and leaned forward, elbows on knees. Would it be breaking any rules to discuss where the case stood when you left? Neither of us wants you to go against your principles, but Lizzy has her own sense of duty. Shed like to know that shes done everything she can to clear her grandmothers name. She did go to Summers first, but he wasnt much help. Roger nodded slowly. Id like to say that surprises me, but it doesnt. The man doesnt give a damn about public safety. He sees being police chief as a gig, a stepping-stone to bigger things. Andrew caught Lizzys eye with a look that said I told you so. Mayor Cavanaugh just announced his retirement. Rogers lips thinned. Then you can bet the VOTE SUMMERS yard signs are being printed as we speak. Not that it was any big secret. We all knew he was angling for mayor, or higher. We could see him working it, milking the high-profile cases to get his name in the paper. He was all about the show. Unless it made him look bad. Then he wanted no part of it. Andrews brows knitted. You think the Gilman murders made him look bad? Roger blew out a long breath. The Gilman murders made everyone look bad. People in Salem Creek arent used to seeing that kind of thing on the local news. So when they do, it doesnt take long for the finger-pointing to start. And the fingers werent just pointing at Summers. Cavanaugh was taking heat too, and Election Day was right around the corner. It was in everyones interest to make it go away. Not everyones interest, Lizzy shot back. But he did get his way. There was never a resolution. No arrest. No trial. Nothing. Roger looked at her over steepled fingers. You have to consider the evidence we had. Or, rather, didnt have. We had the bodies and an anonymous tip, but nothing that linked your grandmother directly to the murders. No motive. No weapon. And no concrete forensics to speak of. Say we go ahead and make an arrest to tamp down the noise. Then we go to court. Only we cant make the case and your grandmothers acquitted. The last thing Cavanaugh wants while hes out stumping for votes is for people to remember that two girls died on his watch, and that his police chief let a killer walk free. He paused, shrugging heavily. Sometimes, when you cant make a case, its better to do nothing than to poke the hornets nest. Strategy must have worked. Hes still there. Andrew sat up straighter in his chair, as if grasping the full import of Rogers words. You think it was Cavanaugh who asked Summers to slow-walk the investigation? No, Roger replied flatly. I think Cavanaugh told him to bury it completely. Summers probably wasnt too keen at first. A conviction would have made him a hero, a champion of law and order. But when he realized a conviction wasnt likely, he changed direction quick. I suspect there was some back-scratching involved. Cavanaugh wanted the story to go away so he could win reelection, and Summers wanted a hand when it finally came time for the mayor to head south. Lizzy stared at him, stunned. So he just dropped a murder investigation? Starved is more like it, but it amounts to the same thing. He claimed it had to do with budgeting, but none of us bought that. Heres this huge case, and all of a sudden my guys cant get the overtime they need to do the legwork, cant get approval for labs that might help us nail down how long the girls had been in the water, or whether either of them had been poisoned. Nothing but alcohol came up on the tox screens, but thats not unusual when a significant amount of time has passed before samples are collected. Fermentation skews everything. Toss in a couple weeks of submersion and things get really messy. What about the Gilmans? Lizzy asked, eager to change the subject. Werent they demanding answers? They wereor at least Fred Gilman was. But Summers managed to convince him the investigation had hit a dead end and that was that. Not that Gilman ever changed his mind about your grandmothers guilt, but that was fine with Summers. He didnt care what people believed, as long as he and Cavanaugh didnt get their hands dirty. Lizzy stared at him, astonished. Didnt get their hands dirty? My grandmother was getting death threats, Detective. We were terrified every time she left the house. I know. Things got . . . out of hand. It was bad enough when word leaked that wed found the vial in Heathers pocket. Blue glass, just like your grandmother used, but with no label. When she verified that the girls had visited her shop the afternoon they went missing, well, it was inevitable that people would jump to conclusions. As far as anyone knewincluding usAlthea was the last person to see the girls alive. Assurance, Lizzy told him quietly. Thats the name of the oil blend she made up for Heather that day. She wanted to make a boy fall in love with her. Thats why she came to the shop, for a love potion. But Althea didnt believe in love potions. She thought they were manipulative, so she sold Heather the Assurance oil instead, to dab on her wrists. Its a combination of cedar and carnation oils, used to inspire confidence. Not a sedative, and not remotely poisonous. But my grandmother told you all of that. Roger nodded. She did. But you didnt believe her. The neck of the vial was cracked when we retrieved it from Heathers pocket. There was nothing to test, no way to verify its contents. We thought a sedative of some kind might account for how someone your grandmothers age could have overpowered two young girls. We were doing our jobs, Ms. Moon. I was there the day you came with your men, Lizzy said softly. I let you in. Yes, Roger said, the slight inclination of his head an acknowledgment that theyd officially crossed into uncomfortable territory. I remember. Lizzy stood abruptly and moved to the railing, the combination of anger and memory making her vaguely queasy. Andrew must have sensed her mood because he was suddenly beside her, sliding a hand over hers on the railing. He said nothing, but the question in his eyes was easily read. Are you okay? When she nodded that she was, Andrew turned back to Roger. You bring up a point thats always bothered me, Roger. Althea Moon was five feet two, tops, and I doubt she weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet. Is it likely that she was strong enough to inflict the kinds of head injuries the girls sustained? Only Darcy, the younger of the two, sustained a head injury, Roger explained gravely. Blunt force trauma to the left temporal and parietal areas. Subdural hematoma. Gruesome stuff. But the ME couldnt be certain as to her definitive cause of death. There appeared to be some pulmonary hemorrhaging, which is sometimes seen in drowning victims. Hard to say, though, after so much time in the pond. Heather was strangled. Crushed trachea, two broken cervical vertebrae. Lungs looked clear, which means she was dead when she went in. Lizzy couldnt help feeling a grudging respect for Roger Coleman. Eight years had passed since the Gilman girls were murdered and he still remembered their names, referring to them as Darcy and Heather, rather than mere faceless victims. Andrew had fallen silent, his brows pinched, as if trying to work out something in his head. Was there a time lag between the two deaths? he asked finally. Roger shrugged. The level of decomposition was similar for both girls, but that has more to do with how long they were in the water than with actual time of death. Its likely they died in close succession, but we cant know for certain. Theres a lot we cant know for certain. Im just thinking out loud here, but leaving size out of the equation, how likely is it that Althea could have killed them both? I mean, a woman in her sixties against two young girls? Youd think at least one of them would have gotten away. Unless they were tied up. They werent, were they? Not when they went in the water. The divers scoured the pond for rope, tape, anything that could have been used to bind them, but they came up empty. Then how could she have pulled it off? Thats the question, isnt it? In fact, its one of the things that kept nagging at me. Lizzys head came up sharply. It was the first sign hed given that he had doubts about Altheas guilt, and she seized on it. You dont think she did it. I didnt say that. But you had doubts. You just said you did. Not initially. The bodies were discovered in your grandmothers pond, weighted down with rocks, and if theres one thing this job teaches you, its that theres generally a reason the obvious suspect is the obvious suspect. But it isnt my job to decide whos guilty and whos not. Its my job to follow the evidence. And in this case there were some things that just didnt add up. Like what? Like why our tipster didnt come forward when we asked him to contact us again. Not even when we upped the reward. And then theres motive. I couldnt for the life of me figure out why your grandmother would have wanted to harm two young girls, and then dump them in her own pond, where she had to know theyd eventually be found. People have said a lot of things about Althea Moon over the years, but no one ever said she was stupid. No, Lizzy said evenly. She wasnt. So who? Roger shook his head. Thats the other problem. Its much harder to prove someone didnt do something than to prove they did. For better or worse, big cases tend to take on a momentum of their own. The evidence points in a certain direction, and thats the direction everyone looks. The media, the public, and, yes, sometimes even the law. It takes something substantial to shift that momentum in a new direction, and we just didnt have that. We didnt have anything. So you were fine with letting everyone believe Althea was guilty? Roger rose stiffly from his chair. Come with me, Ms. Moon. Lizzy caught Andrews eye as they followed Roger into the house. They passed through the kitchen and living room, then down a short hall lined with three doors, two of which stood open. The first was a small guest bath. The second appeared to be Rogers bedroom, furnished with only a bed, a bureau, and a treadmill stationed in front of the window. The last door was closed. Roger said nothing as he pushed it open, stepping aside so Lizzy and Andrew could enter ahead of him. The room was small and dim, the blinds closed against the afternoon sun. There were no furnishings of any kind, just stacks of cardboard storage boxes on the floor in the center of the room. Lizzy looked from the boxes to Roger. Whats all this? This, Roger said wistfully, is my career. Or was. Personal notes on every case I worked as a detective. He stepped into the room, making a beeline for a pair of boxes set slightly apart from the rest. And these, he said, laying a hand on the top box, are the Gilman files. Lizzy eyed him warily. Should you even have those? Theyre not official police documents. Just stuff I kept together so I could work the case from home. Notes mostly. He lifted the lid and pulled out a handful of small black notebooks. Ive been accused of being a pack rat, but the truth is, I think better on paper. Lizzy stepped closer, peering into the carton at the jumble of notebooks and file folders. There must be hundreds of pages here. What is it all? Notes on basically everything I could remember at the end of every day, stray thoughts, offhand remarks I wanted to follow up on. Impressions I jotted down after interviews and daily briefings. Anything I thought might eventually fit somewhere. How on earth did you find time to do all this? Like I said, some of us give our lives to the job. My wife and son were killed not long after I made detective. They were on the way back from my sons tae kwon do match in Manchester. The roads were icy, and the car jumped the median into oncoming traffic. I was supposed to go with them that night, but I was stuck in an interview. Maybe if Id been driving . . . His eyes flicked briefly from hers. My son was eleven. Lizzys throat went tight. Apparently her radar was spot on. A wife and a son. How was it possible to even survive such a loss? To keep putting one foot in front of the other when youve lost everything that mattered? Im so sorry. Roger hunched his shoulders, clearly uncomfortable with his grief. After that, there was just the job. And my notes. Anyway, its all here. Andrew moved closer, craning his neck to inspect the contents of the carton. I cant believe you saved all this. My brothers a criminal attorney. The first thing he told me when I joined the force was never get rid of your notes, because you never know when a case is going to come back to bite you in the ass. I never forgot it. You have no idea how many times some tiny detail has ended up shining new light on a case. Not that this is likely to be one of those cases. God knows Ive spent hours looking for something I might have missed. Unfortunately, I never found it. Lizzys admiration for Roger Coleman ticked up another notch. You seem to have taken the case very seriously. I took all my cases seriously, but I admit this one hit me hard. I know what its like to lose a child, but I never had to wonder what happened to my son. For better or worse, I knew. The Gilmans didnt. And they still dont. I cant imagine what that must be like, to wake up every day and know my child was gone and have no idea how or why. Its also why I agreed to talk to you. It struck me when Andrew told me you were thinking about digging all this up again that maybe the Gilmans werent the only ones who deserved answers. Thank you, Detective. Roger, he reminded again. Ive got seventeen years under my belt as a detective, and in all that time there were only three cases I couldnt close. This was one of them. Im telling you this because I need you to understand that my only stake in all of this is getting at the truth, and that anything I may find is in that interest alone. I dont work for you. I understand. Ill wait to hear from you. In the meantime, I was thinking of talking to the Gilmans. Rogers face darkened. Youre certainly welcome to try, but I doubt youll get very far. The last time I had contact, Fred Gilman nearly tore my head off, and Mrs. Gilman looked like a ghost. Not that I blame either of them. He wanted someones head on a pike, and she just wanted it to be over. They needed closure, and I couldnt give it to them. Maybe we can still give it to them, Lizzy said quietly. If I can just make them see that thats what I want too, theyll talk to me. Maybe so, Roger said, though he sounded less than convinced. I was sorry to hear about your grandmother, by the way. She seemed like a good woman, despite what was happening in her world. I wish our paths could have crossed under different circumstances. Lizzy met his gaze squarely. She didnt hurt those girls, Roger. You have no idea how much Id like to believe that, Ms. Moon. Its Lizzy, she corrected. And Im guessing its not half as much as Id like to prove it to you. TEN Lizzy was quiet on the ride back. She could feel Andrews eyes sliding in her direction now and then, but she was too busy digesting what shed learned about Randall Summerss negligent handling of the investigation to make conversation. And yet, in a perverse way, it gave her hope. Shed been operating under the assumption that the police had simply run out of leads, when the truth was the investigation had been quietly and deliberately quashed. It was clear now why Roger had walked away from a nearly twenty-year career with the Salem Creek Police Department. She barely knew the man, but shed seen enough to know he wasnt the type to stomach collusion and blatant malfeasance, which was what Summerss actions amounted to. Which was why she believed him when he said hed comb through his notes in search of some previously missed clue. Not because he wanted to help her, but because he wanted to get to the truth. Because that was how he was built. Here we are, Andrew said, as they pulled into the drive. Home again. He put the truck in park and turned to look at her. You havent said much since we left Rogers. Are you okay? Im fine. She was clutching her purse with one hand, the door handle with the other, ready to be alone with her thoughts. Instead, she sagged back in her seat. Its just a lot to take in, you know? To find out the chief of police was willing to let my grandmother take the fall for something she didnt do because he wanted to run for mayor one day. What kind of man does something like that? The ambitious kind. Lizzy shook her head, unable to comprehend it. Someone needs to know. Who? Summers doesnt have a boss, unless you count Cavanaugh, and I think its safe to say hes not going to be helpful. The governor, then. Or the media. Someone. Andrew looked away, his hands still on the wheel. I get that youre angry, Lizzy, but how many fights are you willing to jump into? As many as it takes. He blew out a breath, slow and thoughtful. Okay. But maybe take them one at a time. Focus on what matters right now. I want to talk to the Gilmans. Something like a wince crossed Andrews face. Youre probably the last person the Gilmans are going to want to talk to. Why not wait and see what Roger comes up with? And if he comes up with nothing? I dont know. Im just not sure dragging the Gilmans through it all again is a good idea. Im trying to find out what happened to their daughters. You dont think theyd want to help me do that? In their minds, they already know what happened, Lizzy. As far as theyre concerned youll just be trying to clear Althea. You should also know the Gilmans split up a few years back. Freds still around, but Im pretty sure someone told me Susan moved away. Lizzy was sorry but not surprised. Shed heard about marriages unraveling when a child died. Wives blaming husbands. Husbands shutting down emotionally. It was hard to imagine going on when a piece of your heart had been torn away forever. But then the Gilmans didnt have to imagine it. It happened. You dont think I feel awful about what they went through? I was there to see Susan Gilmans face the day they pulled her daughters from our pond. I watched her die inside as the coroners van drove away. But Altheas dead too. And Im all thats left, the only one still here to care about her memory. Is that wrong? No. Its not. Im just saying give it some thought. And if you do decide to talk to them, try to remember that their grief is different from yours. Maybe not as fresh, but every bit as raw. Lizzy nodded, grabbing for the door handle, then paused. Thank you for making today happen, and for going with me. Even if nothing comes of it, it was kind of you to help. Youre welcome. She watched from the top of the drive as Andrew pulled away. Maybe he was right. Maybe she should leave the Gilmans alone. What right did she have to tear the scab from a wound that was barely healed? Salem Creek had moved on. Perhaps it was time she did the same, just put the farm on the market and let it all go. Evvie was in the kitchen when she came in, pulling something golden and fragrant from the oven. The smell of warm blueberries hung in the air. Lizzy looked at the pan on the stove and thought of Althea. No one made blueberry cobbler like Althea, but this one lookedand smelledawfully close. You made cobbler, she said, smiling at Evvie. I love cobbler. Your gran told me. We used to pick our own blueberries, then come home and make a big mess. By the time we finished, my fingers and lips were blue. Its my absolute favorite dessert. She told me that too. She looked at the pan of gooey, browned goodness, then back at Evvie. Did you . . . you made this for me? Thought you might need a little pick-me-up after talking to that detective. Theres ice cream in the freezer. Vanilla? What else? Lizzy blinked back an unexpected rush of tears. It had been an emotional day, and her nerves were raw. Thank you, Evvie. This was so kind of you. Evvie nodded, acknowledging the thank-you, but her expression was all business. You going to tell me what happened? Lizzy went to the freezer and pulled out a half gallon of Hood vanilla, then grabbed two bowls from the cupboard. He wasnt what I expected. Hes . . . sincere. Theres a word you dont hear much anymore. No, but it fits. He cares about the truth. Which is more than I can say for Summers. Evvie dished up the cobbler and handed the bowls to Lizzy, who added a healthy scoop of ice cream to each before heading for the kitchen table. He agreed to help, she said, dropping into a chair. Hes got two boxes of notes from the investigation in his spare room, and he promised to go through them again, in case he missed something. In the meantime, Im thinking of talking to the Gilmans. Lizzy had expected a look of disapproval, but Evvie simply nodded. Youll have to settle for the daddy, she said through a mouthful of cobbler. The mama took off a few years back, and no ones heard a peep from her since. Andrew told me. Cant blame her. Word is Mr. Gilmans no prize. Cant imagine hed be any better after what happened. And whod want to live in a place where everything you looked at reminded you of what youd lost? Not me, I know that. Hes still here, though. Lives over in Meadow Park now, the trailer park out by the fairgrounds. And Im pretty sure he still works at Mason Electric. Lizzy spooned up a bite of cobbler, but paused before putting it in her mouth. The detective doesnt think Ill get very far. Neither does Andrew. And Im starting to think theyre right. Fred Gilman will take one look at me and see Altheathe woman he thinks murdered his little girls. He might just. And hell probably be mad. But you knew you were going to make folks mad when you decided to do this. Are you having second thoughts? I dont know. Maybe. I think about how Id feel if I were in the Gilmans shoes, and someone came along and made me relive it all. It seems cruel, especially when its not likely to amount to anything. Im just wondering if its worth it. Evvie lifted her apron and dabbed the corner of her mouth. You might be right. It might come to nothing. But what if youre wrong? What if there was something somebody forgot to tell the police? Something that could have made a difference? Neither of them was in a good place back then. But times passed. They can look at it now, through clearer eyes. Maybe theres something, some tiny bit of a memory stuck way down deep, and you showing up could shake it loose. Thats a lot of maybes, Evvie. What if Im just stirring up trouble for troubles sake? Trouble. Evvie scowled at her. Thats what youre worried about? Stirring up trouble? Im trying to do the right thing. To be compassionate. You want to do the right thing? Help those little girls move on. Lizzy tipped her head to the side, eyes narrowed. What did you say? I said you need to help those girls move on. Youre worried about Mr. Gilman, but have you ever thought those girls might rest easier if someone caught whoever hurt them? That all this time theyve been hovering between this world and the next, waiting for someone to figure out what really happened? And your granshe might just feel like shes got some unfinished business herself, things tethering her to this place, instead of where shes meant to be. Lizzy lowered her spoon back to her bowl. The other day She broke off, waving the thought away. Never mind. It was nothing. Doesnt look like nothing from where Im sitting. All right. The other day, when I was coming back from the pond, something weird happened. All of a sudden it was like she was with me. It was so real I felt like I was going to turn around and find her standing there. She forced herself to meet Evvies gaze. I smelled her, Evvie. The perfume I used to make for herI could smell it. They say smells can trigger memory. They can, Lizzy agreed. The olfactory and memory centers of the brain are closely connected. But this didnt feel like a memory. It felt . . . real. She rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. Listen to me, carrying on like a crazy person. It is crazy, right? Evvies mouth softened, not quite a smile but close to it. Maybe. But sometimes the craziest things are the truest of all. Just because we cant explain a thing doesnt mean its not real. Lizzy stared at her, still trying to wrap her head around this enigmatic woman, with her all-seeing eyes and strange half smiles. Sometimes you say things, Evvie. Things that make me wonder if youre . . . She caught herself, waving away the rest of the thought. Never mind. Evvie pushed back her chair and stood. Come with me. Theres something I need to show you. Lizzy followed her to the backyard, past the greenhouse with its newly replaced glass, and the vegetable garden with its chicken wire fence and gate, finally coming to a stop before Evvies pastel-colored bee boxes. Lizzy eyed them warily. Shed never developed Altheas fondness for bees, or anything with wings and a stinger. She held her breath as Evvie laid a hand on the lid of one of the hives, a smile softening the corners of her mouth. Lizzy held her breath. She didnt know a thing about beekeeping, but even she knew you were supposed to wear some sort of protective geara smock, gloves, one of those pith helmets with the netting. Evvie had none of that. She just stood there, barefaced and bare armedand began to sing. The hairs on Lizzys arms prickled to attention. It wasnt a tune she recognized. The words were foreign and had a faintly French lilt. She stood spellbound as Evvie closed her eyes and let her head fall back, holding perfectly still as the song poured out low, lush, and achingly sweet. And then she slowly began to raise her arms, holding them out to her sides. An invitation, Lizzy realized. She was calling them to her. One by one the bees came, hovering around her like a soft, humming cloud, eventually lighting on her arms, her neck, her cheeks. It should have been terrifying, but somehow it wasnt. It was lovely and magical, and suddenly Lizzy understood. Shes one of us. It explained so much. The inexplicable sense of the familiar shed felt almost from the beginning; those sharp, all-seeing eyes; her remark about family not always being about blood. Of course she and Althea had hit it off. They were sisters under the skin, walkers on the same path. Come meet my bees, Evvie said, as if nothing remotely extraordinary had occurred. Lizzy eyed the humming bodies still clinging to Evvies arms and shook her head. Thanks. Im good. Theyre happy. They wont hurt you. Lizzy sucked in a breath, holding it as she inched closer. Arent you supposed to have one of those smoker things? Dont need one. Youre not afraid of being stung? Nope. Lizzy couldnt stop staring. Magick or not, it was hard to comprehend what she was seeing. The song you were singing just nowwhat was it? Its called Galine Galo. Its a Creole lullaby. You sing lullabies to your bees? They like it. Lizzy cocked an eye at her, skeptical. And yet it was plain that Evvies song had not only attracted the bees, it had lulled them. They seemed almost . . . affectionate. Have you always been able to do this? Long as I can remember. How on earth did you know to sing to them? Evvie shrugged. The bees on her shoulders stirred, then resettled. Dont know. Just did. My mama used to sing that song to me when I was little, and it always calmed me. Guess I figured if it worked for me, it would work for them. She paused, pursing her lips to blow gently on one arm. Go on, she said softly, clearly talking to the bees. She turned to the other arm and blew again. Go. Go. Ive got work to do, and so do you. Lizzy watched, fascinated as the bees obeyed. When the last bee departed, Evvie bent to remove the lid from an old enamel washtub at the base of the hive. Inside was an assortment of tools. She pulled out a curved blade and set to work, prying one of the frames free, carefully lifting it out, shaking off several clinging bees. Lizzy was surprised to find herself relaxing as she watched Evvie work. The bees seemed unfazed by this invasion of their habitat, treating Evvie not as an intruder, but as a guest. Do they ever sting? Evvie glanced up from her work. Every once in a while, but its usually my fault when they do. Ive broken their rules. Bees have rules? Of course they have rules. Every living thing has rules. A big one with bees is that you dont wear anything with a strong scent. It stirs them up, makes them nervous. I guess that makes sense. Could I learn how to do it? The singing thing, I mean. Not that I want to. Im just curious. Doubt it. Evvie pressed her lips together as she mulled the question further. Its like you and your nose. Your gran told me how youre able to read people. It wasnt something you learned. It was something you were born witha gift. Althea used to call it that too, but it hasnt always felt that way to me. Sometimes I know things Id rather not know. Like what someones thinking when Im around. If youve been given a gift, theres a reason. The magick goes where its best used. Lizzy nodded absently, wondering what use there might be for a woman who sang to bees. I suppose. But it still seems a little dangerous. What if something happened? What if they all decided to get mad at the same time? Evvie looked up from the frame shed been examining. Bees are like people, little girl. They attack when they feel threatenedwhen theyre afraid. Its the same for us. Its always the things we fear that sting us in the end. The things we hide from or push against. When we drop the fearthe resistancethings take their course in a more natural and painless way. You sound like Althea now, with her nature metaphors, always trying to teach me something. Evvie slid the gooey frame back into place and wiped her hands on the front of her apron. Id say thats just about the nicest compliment Ive ever gotten. I found a book, Lizzy blurted. In the bookcase in Altheas roomone she wrote just for me. Evvie nodded, her expression wistful. She finished it the day before she passed. I helped her press the flowers and herbs. And locked it up with the others when she finished it. She knew youd find it when the time came. How could she possibly know that? Evvie smiled one of her enigmatic smiles. She raised you, little girl. And loved you with her whole soul. That kind of bond doesnt end just because one of you stops breathing. That book was a labor of love, a way to keep teaching you after she was gone. I thought she left you here for that. Dont be silly. Theres only ever one queen in a hive. And that was Althea. Lizzy couldnt help asking the obvious question. What happens when the queen dies? Evvie looked at her a long time, her eyes softly probing. Depends, she said at last. Sometimes the queen nurtures her own replacement. But if the death is sudden and the hive is unprepared, the drones band together to nurture a new queen. Shes carefully prepared, fed, and pampered, until shes ready to assume her new position as head of the hive. And then what? As queen, her sole responsibility is to ensure the survival of the hive. You mean reproduce, Lizzy replied matter-of-factly. Yes. Her job is to populate the hive, and eventually give birth to her successor. If she fails, the hive may wither and dieunless the beekeeper steps in. Lizzy took a moment to digest this, aware that their conversation had gone beyond beekeeping to something much closer to home. Is that why youre here? To step in? Evvie smiled sheepishly. Something like that. Your gran hoped Id be able to smooth things a bit when you came back. What if I hadnt come back? I wasnt going to. Silly girl. You were always going to come back. You just didnt know it. She did, though. Thats why she wrote the book. Because she knew it would be hard. It was never easy for you here, growing up the way you did, with no friends and no real mother to speak of. And then those poor girls turning up dead. They blamed her, but you took your share of fire. Still, here you are, back in Salem Creek, thinking of kicking over a hornets nest. Thats brave. Or maybe its just crazy. She shook her head, staring off into the woods. I could call Roger Coleman and tell him to forget it, just let the whole thing drop and go back to New York. Evvies brow puckered. Could you? Lizzy struggled to find an answer. She wasnt like Luc. She couldnt just get on with it and feel relieved that it was finally over. Because it wasnt over. And wouldnt be until everyone in Salem Creek knew what really happened the night Heather and Darcy Gilman disappeared. But was she preparedtruly preparedto pay the price for that truth? She wanted to say yes, to believe she was up for whatever the Gilmans or the rest of the town could throw at her. She wanted to, but she wasnt sure. As if in answer, the air around her seemed to ripple, the subtle breeze freshened with the scents of lavender and bergamot. The fragrance was unmistakable, like the brush of fingers against her cheek, and suddenly she knew what she needed to do. . . . come back to the book when you are ready. Trust me in this, sweet girl. You will know when its time. Bluebells . . . for truth. My dearest Lizzy, If youre reading this, you have been pulled back to these pages, perhaps because youre wrestling with a choice, searching your heart for whats right. I knew that if you came back, this day would come, and that it would not be easy. The truth seldom is. Which is why we spend so much time hiding from it. But the truth is incapable of real harm. It is we who do harm, when we refuse to face what is real, because its uncomfortable or inconvenient. When you were a girl, you were such a sensitive little thing, afraid of the dark, and the monsters you swore lived under your bed. Nearly every night you would wake, soaking wet and rigid with terror, certain you were about to be dragged off into the dark and devoured. You would come wailing down the hall, begging me to save you, to hide you, and I would let you climb in with me. I would soothe you, and promise that the monsters would never get you. And then one night I realized I was helping you keep your monsters alive, by coddling and protecting you. I knew if I let you climb in with me again that the next night, or the one after that, you would be terrorized all over again. And so I carried you down the halldo you remember it? You fought like a hellcat the whole way. But I made you go in, and I flipped on the light. Then I took you by the hand and made you look under the bed and in the closet, in every drawer and corner of that room, until you saw for yourself that the monsters werent there, that theyd never been there. You never had the dream again. Because you understood that what isnt real cant hurt you. Illusions have no powerunless we insist on clinging to them. Then they become a warped kind of truth, a story we settle for because we prefer to remain in the dark with the monsters we know, rather than face new ones. Thats why the worst truthsthe ones that do the most harmare those we refuse to face. We prefer falsehoods and half-truths, inventions meant to gloss over things we dont wish to see. But knowing half a thing is to not know it at all. We tell ourselves the price of truth is simply too high, that its better to leave a thing alone in the name of peace than to inflict pain in the name of truth. But that kind of peace comes at a price. We must never forget that theres always another side to the cointhat on the other side of every lie is a truth that has gone untold. And there is always a cost to such things. We all of us come to a place in our lives when the things we dread inevitably come for us. Not the childish things that lurk in dark corners or under beds, but the kind that live in our heads and our hearts. The grown-up things. The kind that cut deep when theyre finally revealed. And then we must choosedo whats hard and topple the lie, or simply allow it to stand. You have always had a good heart, my Lizzya kind heart. But it is never a kindness to allow a lie to stand, however hard the pursuit of the truth may be. In the end, light is the only thing that has ever chased away darknessthe only thing that ever will. Seek truth in all things, my dearest girl. There can be no healing without it. A ELEVEN July 22 It was nearly five when Lizzy pulled into the parking lot of Mason Electric. Shed purposely waited for closing time but found herself hesitating as she reached for the door handle. Once she approached Fred Gilman, thered be no going back. But Altheas words thrummed in her head. Seek truth in all things. There can be no healing without it. So be it. The door chimed softly as she stepped into the lobby. A young woman in cat-eye glasses and a lime-green sundress glanced up from the counter with a polite smile. Can I help you? I was hoping to speak with Fred Gilman. Is he in? Sorry. Hes out on a job. But if you leave your name, Ill have him call you. Lizzy wasnt sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed. No. Thank you. No message. She was preparing to leave when she noticed two men in gray work shirts huddled around the watercooler behind the counter. One of them, the taller of the two, locked eyes with her over his paper cup. What do you want with Fred? Lizzy eyed the name patch on his shirtJAKE. I want to talk to him. On personal business. No, he said flatly. You dont. I know who you are, and I know all about your business. Hasnt your family caused enough trouble in this town? Lizzy fought the urge to step back, registering the caustic combination of lye and hot tar. Not exactly a promising sign. I didnt come to cause trouble. I just need to ask him a few questions. Jake leaned across the counter until his face was inches from hers. Leave the man alone. He doesnt need your questions. None of us do. Jake! The woman in the cat-eye glasses slapped a manila folder down on the counter. Get back to the warehouse where you belong. You too, Tommy. When the men were gone, she turned back with an apologetic smile. Sorry about them. Fred should be back shortly. You can wait if you want. No. No, thank you. Ill catch up with him another time. She had crossed to the door when she felt a pair of eyes between her shoulder blades. She glanced back to see that Jake had reappeared, his eyes flinty as he watched her go. Back in the car, she sat with both hands curled tight around the wheel. Shed known better than to expect red-carpet treatment, but she hadnt prepared for open hostility. And shed yet to ask a single question. What would happen when she really started digging? Before she could consider the question, a utility pickup with a ladder rack on the roof swung into the lot and parked several rows over. She hadnt seen Fred Gilman in years, but there was no missing the mans telltale gait, shoulders bunched close to his ears, arms nearly stationary as he crossed the lot, like a man bracing himself against a storm. She reached for the door handle, then changed her mind. Following him inside would just lead to another run-in with Jake, squelching any hope for a productive conversation. Shed have a better shot if she waited for him to come out. Ten minutes later Gilman reappeared with Jake at his side. She hadnt counted on that. She slouched down in her seat, praying she wouldnt be spotted as they crossed the parking lot together. They lingered for what felt like an eternity, in deep conversation. It wasnt hard to guess what they were discussing. When Gilman finally climbed into a battered green Subaru and started the engine, she followed him out of the lot, maintaining what she hoped was a discreet distance, slowing when he slowed, turning when he turned. She felt ridiculous, like an obsessed stalker or inept spy. If he spotted her, would he call the police? And what if he did? She wasnt breaking any laws, and she had every right to ask her questions. They had just passed the fairground entrance when he turned off into Meadow Park. His driveway was the third on the right. She sped past as he pulled in, circling the block several times to allow him time to get inside. Ambushing the man in his driveway wasnt likely to earn her any points. On the third pass, she pulled in behind the Subaru. Fred Gilmans home was a yellow-and-white single-wide with a weathered wood porch tacked onto the front. The postage stampsize lot was brown with neglect, barren but for a straggly hedge running down one side. No flowers in the yard. No mat on the porch. No wreath on the door. The home of a man who lived alone. Lizzy held her breath as she mounted the porch steps and knocked on the dented aluminum door. There was a moment of fumbling with a lock before the door finally inched back. Gilman stood blinking at her through the opening, a frozen dinner half out of its box in his hands. He looked weary as he peered out, and a little annoyeduntil he recognized her. His face hardened as he backed away, clearly bent on slamming the door in her face. But shed come too far to leave empty-handed. Reflexively, she wedged her foot between the door and the jamb. An ambrosia of mothballs, burned coffee, and dirty carpet wafted through the opening. Lizzy suspected the odors had more to do with Fred Gilmans living conditions than with the state of his emotions, but it was enough to make her take a small step back. Mr. Gilman, Id like to speak to you. Gilman glared at her. Stay away from me. Please. I think youll want to hear what I have to say. Its about the investigation into what happened to your girls. His face suddenly went slack, and for a moment he stood blinking at the frozen dinner in his hands, as if wondering how it got there. Finally, his eyes snapped back to hers. You have one minute to say what you came to say, and you can say it from right there on the porch. Lizzy felt her shoulders relax. Youve heard, Im sure, that my grandmother died. She waited for a response, but his face was disconcertingly blank. I know what you think, Mr. Gilman. You believe Althea hurt your girls. But it isnt true. I have reasongood reasonto believe the investigation was mishandled. Ive asked the police to look at the evidence again, but in the meantime, I was hoping you and your wife might remember My wife, Gilman spat, lives in Massachusetts now. Im so sorry, Mr. Gilman. Truly sorry, for everything youve been through. But Im sure youd want to know the truth. You have nothing to say that I want to hear. My girls are dead. My wifes gone. Isnt that enough for you? Mr. Gilman, please, if you knew my grandmother at all, youd know she could never hurt your daughters. All I need is something to go on, something that might convince Chief Summers to reopen the case. Gilmans face had gone a blotchy shade of red. He locked eyes with her. I know all I need to about the Moons. And so does the rest of this town. They dont want you here any more than I do. Yet here you stand on my front porch, asking for my help. Youve got some brass. But then your lot always did. Well, I say good riddance to your grandmother. Got what was coming to her, if you ask me. Maybe you will too. His words, a blend of menace and thinly veiled disgust, sent a chill down Lizzys spine. Had he just threatened her? She couldnt say for sure, but it was clear that shed get no help from him. She turned and headed back down the steps. And dont go bothering my wife if you know whats good for you. The words hit Lizzy in the back as she reached the driveway. Shes got nothing to say. Lizzy replayed the conversation in her head on the drive home, not that it had been much of a conversation. She hadnt learned anything she didnt already know. Still, she couldnt shake the feeling that there was more to Gilmans rancor than met the eye. He clearly didnt want her dredging up the past, and especially not with his ex-wife. Shes got nothing to say. Maybe that was trueand maybe it wasnt. Was it possible Gilman had something to hide? She shuddered at the possibilities, but it happened, didnt it? You heard about it on the news, saw it in the papers. Parents capable of the unthinkable. Lizzy brought herself up short. She was grasping at straws now, concocting a plot that felt like it had been lifted from an airport novel, and on nothing more than speculation. She knew better than most the wreckage wrought by false accusations. She needed to rein in her imagination, to follow the facts rather than her emotions. But where did that leave her? Roger had been swift to point out that there was a reason the obvious suspect was typically the obvious suspect. But what if there were no obvious suspects? No obvious motive, no clear-cut opportunity? You had to start looking at the not-so-obvious suspects, didnt you? Lizzy was surprised to find herself back home so quickly. Shed been so caught up in her thoughts that shed made most of the drive on autopilot. She spotted Andrews truck in his driveway as she drove past. Maybe a male perspective was what she needed. She got out of the car, cut across the yard, and knocked. Andrew answered moments later, sporting loose-fitting sweatpants and a damp towel draped around bare shoulders. The mingled scents of amber and smoke came off him in waves. Hey. I thought I heard a knock. Whats up? Lizzys gaze slid down his bare torso, then shot back to his face. I just got home and saw your truck. Is it a bad time? Its a great time, actually. I was just about to fix some supper. Oh, sorry. Ill come back if youre cooking. Who said anything about cooking? I thought you did. Andrew motioned for her to follow him to the kitchen. I can boil water, scramble eggs, and butter toast. Beyond that, Im pretty much a ready-to-eat kind of guy. Plus, the stoves not hooked up yet. He paused, opening the fridge door with a flourish. Which is why I hit the market this afternoon. I was thinking of having a little picnic. Lizzy eyed the collection of deli containers and what appeared to be a rotisserie chicken. Looks like quite a feast. Join me? Oh, no. I dont want to intrude. We can talk tomorrow. Stay. Theres plenty. Ill warn you, though, this isnt New York City. The fare isnt exactly trendy, and well be sitting on the floor. He shot her a grin. Lizzy found herself grinning back, wondering why she hadnt noticed his dimples before now. Personally, Ive always thought chairs were overrated. Great. Give me a minute to throw on a shirt. You can go ahead and pull that stuff out of the fridge if you want. Paper plates are in the cabinet next to the sink. He reappeared a short time later wearing torn jeans and a faded Patriots T-shirt. Never let it be said that I forced you to dine with a savage. While Lizzy busied herself with the food containers, Andrew spread a paint-spattered drop cloth on the floor of what she assumed was the breakfast room. When the food was ready, they settled down to their makeshift picnic, sitting opposite one another with their paper plates and plastic utensils. Lizzy watched with mixed emotions as Andrew struggled to dissect the chicken with a plastic knife, wondering when the best time might be to mention that she was a vegetarian. Not to criticize, but a real knife might come in handy. Andrew grimaced, still wrestling with the chicken. Dont have one. Another few minutes and the drumstick came free. He offered it to Lizzy. She waved it off with a shake of her head. No meat for me. Sorry. Didnt know that. No reason you should. Why dont you have a knife? Most of the downstairs stuffs in storage. I wasnt thinking when I packed up the kitchen. I just wanted everything out. Its a hassle, but its easier in the long run. Youre not tripping over things, worrying about protecting the furniture, moving stuff from room to room. Ive got a bed and a dresser upstairs. And my drafting table. Thatll do until its finished. Lizzy took in the room, the empty walls and bare floor. When will that be? Andrew shrugged as he reached for a carrot stick. Depends. Spring, maybe. Im fitting it in between clients, so it could be a while. And its just me, so theres no rush. Youre the first person to see it, by the way. I dont entertain much. Come to think of it, why did you drop by? Lizzy spooned a blob of potato salad onto her plate and handed him the container. I went to see Fred Gilman today. You were right. He all but slammed the door in my face. You cant be surprised. No, but I cant help wondering . . . How well do you know him? Gilman? Not well. He was a customer of my fathers. Why? I was just wondering if there might be a reason he doesnt want me snooping around. Maybe he knows something he doesnt want me to know. By something, you mean . . . It happens. Lizzy, think about what youre saying. I have been thinking about it. I thought about it all the way home. He wasnt just upset, he was hostile. He doesnt want me anywhere near this. Andrew set down his fork, scowling. What did he say? That Althea got what she deserved, and maybe I would too. It was probably just the anger talking, but there was something, I dont know, sinister about the way he said it. He also warned me to stay away from his wife, which I thought was odd since theyre not together anymore. Why would he not want me talking to her? Maybe its as simple as wanting to protect her. Just because two people are apart doesnt mean theyve stopped caring about each other. Lizzy nodded, accepting the remark at face value. When it came to marital dynamics, she had little to go on. I suppose so. Thats why I came over. I needed you to tell me I was imagining things. I just thought after so much time he might be willing to at least listen. What are you going to do now? Lizzy pushed her potato salad around her plate. I have no idea. Talk to Mrs. Gilman, I suppose. If I can track her down. I need something I can take back to Summers, something he cant ignore. Good luck with that. Cavanaugh just endorsed him as Salem Creeks next mayor. Theres zero chance of him touching this now. Then I guess Ill have to force his hand. Lizzy. Andrew folded his paper napkin and laid it aside. I get you needing to do this. In fact, I admire the hell out of you for it, but maybe you should slow down, give Roger time to get through his notes. If theres something to find, hell find it. And then he can deal with Summers, and youre out of it. In the meantime, maybe I could do some poking around, see if anyone knows how to contact her. Lizzy managed a smile. She didnt want to seem ungrateful, but he was doing it again, stepping in to protect her, like he had the night Rhanna went wading in the fountain. Only this time he had more to lose. Andrew, Im grateful to you for putting me in touch with Roger, but this is my fight. Ill be gone in a few weeks, and youll still be here. Your business will still be here. The last thing you need is to get mixed up in this. Im not worried about what this town thinks. You should be, Lizzy replied, thinking of the men at Mason Electric, of Jake and his buddy, and how theyd bowed up at the mere sight of her. Fred Gilman was right about one thing. No one wanted her here. And if Andrew was seen as choosing the Moons over Salem Creek, no one would want him here either. I shouldnt have involved you, she said, setting aside her plate. I knew better. You didnt involve me, Lizzy. I involved myself. Why? The word was out of her mouth before she had time to think about where it might lead, but now that it was out, she was curious. Why did you agree to help mewhen youre clearly not convinced I should be poking around in this? Youre always doing that, you know? Helping me. And its not just making the call to Roger. Its the greenhouse, and the barn, and all the other stuff. Andrew arched a brow. Other stuff? In school. The Twizzlers at the assembly. The ride home the day of the hailstorm. We barely knew each other then. Come to that, we barely know each other now. She paused, ducking her head. I always wondered . . . Was it because you felt sorry for me? Andrew stared at her, as if genuinely astonished. Thats what you thought? That I felt sorry for you? She responded with a half-hearted shrug. I wasnt exactly Miss Popular in school. All I wanted back then was to be invisible. I thought I was doing a good job of it too. Except you kept turning up, being all nice. For the life of me, I couldnt figure out why. I still cant. Andrew paused, picking up his napkin again, and slowly wiped his hands. Finally, he looked up. Why is a boy ever nice to a girl? I wanted you to like me. I still do. Lizzy blinked at him, cheeks tingling. There were no dimples this time, no sign that he was teasing. There were only his words hovering between them, and something warm and unfamiliar unfurling beneath her ribs. Shed had her share of adult relationships, but shed skipped over this part of adolescence, the giddy flutter of first attraction, the breathless tug of young heartstrings. Thered been no point back then. And there was certainly no point now. She scrambled to her feet, careful to avoid Andrews eyes, and headed for the front door. Im sorry. I didnt realize it was so late. I need to get home before Evvie starts worrying. Andrew stood and followed her to the door. Lizzy . . . She turned, her hand already on the knob. You could never be invisible to me. Not then, and not now. Lizzy nodded, cool and careful as she registered what he was trying to say without actually saying it. It isnt about me liking you, Andrew. It never was. But the stakes are higher now. For both of us. TWELVE Andrew watched, cursing himself as Lizzy moved down the front walk. What was he thinking? Shed come to him for help, and instead of offering advice, hed babbled on like some lovesick teenager and run her off. Again. Shed always been skittish around him. Around everyone, really. Why should things be different now? Could he blame her for keeping her guard up? Eight years might seem like a long time to most, but not in a town like Salem Creek, where minds changed slowlyif at all. Though he supposed she knew that better than he. It had taken less than twenty-four hours for things to get ugly after the Amber Alert went out for Heather and Darcy Gilman. By the next morning the towns whisper mill had sputtered to life, grinding out a series of ridiculous and baseless speculations. In small New England towns where nothing much ever happened, gossip was a favorite pastime, like high school hockey or cornhole contests at the Sunday barbecue. And like good barbecue, the locals lapped it up. By the time the girls bodies were recovered from the Moons pond, the torch-and-pitchfork brigade had begun to clamor for their own brand of justice. After Rhannas coffee shop escapade, several churches banded together to organize a midnight vigilto pray away the evil dwelling in our midst, and see the Lords will done. Flyers had gone up all over town the day before, in shopwindows and on telephone poles, inviting the faithful to gather and pray for the soul of their God-fearing town. The name Moon wasnt mentioned that night. There was no need. Everyone understood. All three local news channels had covered the event, complete with plenty of B-roll capturing a sea of righteous faces lit by flickering white candles. When the story was picked up by the larger news outlets, a feeding frenzy ensued, and Randall Summers had been forced to issue a statement urging patience while law enforcement did its joba hedge against the possibility that such talk might be seen as a call to action by those looking to take matters into their own hands. Even now, the thought of it made Andrew sick. Hed had every intention of attending that night, prepared to tell every last one of them what they could do with their so-called prayers, but his father had urged him to stay away, explaining that the surest way to fan the flames was to point fingers and pit neighbor against neighbor. He promised that right would win out in the end, that the truth would come to light and the Moons would be left alone. His father hadnt been wrong about much in his life, but hed been wrong about that. Salem Creek had never forgiven the Moons. Not for the murders of two young girls, but for the sin of being different. The day after the vigil, Rhanna had skipped townproof of the power of prayer, the candle wavers had claimed. Althea had done the only thing she could: keep her head down and fight to hold the tattered remains of her business together. And Lizzy had retreated to the barn, out of the reach of customers and curiosity seekers. And him. Hed hung around after undergrad at UNH, taking postbacc classes and helping his father with the store, inventing one lame excuse after another to put off applying to grad school. Not that hed actually fooled anyone. Still, he rarely saw her. Unless he manufactured a reason to walk over to the farm, which hed done with embarrassing regularity. Shed been a riddle he needed to solve back then, the answer to some question hed yet to fully form. Hed never walked in her shoesthe other in a world that rewarded sameness and conformity. Instead, hed been president of the student council, a high school all-American, the son of a respected businessman, who graduated with a fistful of scholarships to his name. It was the kind of white-bread existence guys like him tended to take for granted. But Lizzy had lived a very different reality. Her familys history, their choice of livelihood, even the way she looked, was so far from conforming to the norm that she was punished for it. But instead of lashing out, or embracing what made her different, she had withdrawn. And when that didnt work, she left. It was Althea who had broken the news. Hed gone over to the farm on some made-up errand for his father, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Her car, a battered blue Honda Civic, was gone. It should have been his first clue. Shed stopped going into town by then. He was pretending to check the flue in the parlor fireplace, trying to think of a way to bring Lizzy into the conversation, when Althea finally volunteered the truth. She was gone, off to New York to study fragrance. After that, it didnt take his father long to convince him that it was time to quit moping over a girl who didnt know he was alive and get himself to graduate school. Eight weeks, maybe ten, and hed left town, bound for Chicago and the Illinois School of Architecture, vowing that his days of pining for the illusive Lizzy Moon were over. Now he was backand so was she. THIRTEEN July 23 Evvie was pulling a pan of lemonpoppy seed muffins from the oven when Lizzy came down the stairs. She straightened, the fragrant steam fogging her glasses. Youre up early. Lizzy checked the clock above the sink. It was just after six, early even for her, but after a night of jumbled dreams in which Fred Gilmans face kept morphing into Andrews, she was more than ready to be up and moving. I had a rough night. Thats what happens when you skip supper. Sit, and Ill fix you some breakfast. I didnt skip supper. I ate with Andrewsort of. I wanted to talk to him about Fred Gilman. I wondered where youd got to, then I dozed off. Next thing I knew it was nearly midnight. Howd the meeting go? Lizzy put the kettle on to heat, then fetched the tea canister from the cupboard. She really did need to get some coffee in the house. It went just like everyone said it would. I didnt get past the front door. And how was supper? Lizzy willed her face to remain blank. She didnt want to think about last nights conversation with Andrew. Supper? You said you ate with Andrew. Oh, right. It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. We had a kind of picnic on the floor. Did you know hes remodeling? Hes put a new deck on, replaced all the windows, and is redoing the entire kitchen. I actually helped him pick the granite last time I was there. Evvies gaze slid to Lizzys. That right? Lizzy was spared a response when the kettle began to shriek. Evvie snapped off the burner. Ill do the tea. You go get my paper off the stoop. Lizzy did as she was told and headed for the foyer. A draft of morning air greeted her as she stepped out onto the front steps. The birds were up, warbling in the treetops. She stood there, in the shade of the sprawling ash boughs, relishing the chorus of bright, sweet notes. Chickadees, siskins, pine warblers. Althea had taught her to pick out their songs. She was about to bend down for the paper when she spotted something hanging from one of the lower branches. Curious, she left the Chronicle on the step and padded barefoot across the grass to peer up into the tree. Her stomach dropped when she realized what she was looking ata crude straw doll wearing a black dress and pointy hat, dangling from a length of filthy rope. She gave the rope a tug. It came free more easily than she expected, tumbling limply into her arms. She stared at the note pinned to the dolls throat. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. She knew the quoteall the Moons didfrom the book of Exodus. A shiver crawled up Lizzys spine as she stared at the scrap of white paper. It was heavy and slightly slick, the kind of paper that came on large rolls and was sometimes used by restaurants to cover tables, or by preschool teachers for finger painting. The verse was scrawled in rough red letters, in what looked to be crayon. She peered over her shoulder, scanning the yard, the street, but there was no sign of the culprit. Not that there was likely to be. HalloweenSamhainhad been a particular favorite for the local children. Althea had always taken it in stride, even managing to chuckle at some of the more imaginative pranks. Shed found the toilet paper pentagram in the front yard particularly amusing. But that was years ago. Was it starting again? Or was this something else? Something more sinister? I wondered where youd gotten to. Evvie stood in the doorway, untying her apron and tossing it over her shoulder. Whats that youve got there? Nothing, Lizzy said, shoving the hideous straw doll behind her back. A prank, probably. Evvies eyes narrowed. Let me see that. Its nothing. Well then, theres no need to hide it. Give it here. Lizzy stared at Evvies outstretched hand. Thered be no slipping past her, that much was clear. Its probably nothing, she said again, wanting to believe her own words as she handed the doll over. It used to happen all the time after the murders. One time someone carved a pentagram into the hood of Altheas car. Another time we found a dead cat on the back stoop. But nothing ever came of it. This was just somebody trying to be cute. Evvies jaw hardened as she held up the doll, giving it a shake for emphasis. This doll is not cute, little girl. This note is not cute. She turned then and headed back into the house, leaving Lizzy on the steps. Lizzy sighed, following her inside. Please dont make this a bigger deal than it is. A bigger deal? Evvie jabbed a finger at the scrawled note. What do you think this means? Coming the day after you paid that man a visit? Ill tell you what it means. It means someone isnt happy about you coming back here and dredging up the past. This wasnt some youngun from down the street. This was someone grown. Someone dangerous. Or maybe its just someone who wants us to think theyre dangerous. Lizzy paused for a deep breath, groping for some way to talk Evvie off the ledgeand maybe herself too. Look, I know how scary this must look Do you? Evvie parked her hands on her hips, eyes flashing. Because where I come from, we take nooses pretty seriously. Lizzy dropped her head, properly chastened. Yes, of course you do. But this isnt that, Evvie. No ones planning a lynching. We dont know what anyones planning, and were not going to find out. You need to call the police. Evvie, the last thing I need right now is the police involved in this. At the moment only a handful of people even know Im back. The minute I pick up the phone and tell them about that note, itll be all over town. And there goes any chance I have of getting anyone to talk to me. Please dont say anything. At least not yet. She reached for Evvies hand, giving it a squeeze. Please? Fine. Evvie pushed the doll back into Lizzys hands. But get rid of it. Like my mama used to say, we dont need no bad juju hangin around. And say what you want, but that right there is some bad juju. Lizzy breathed a sigh of relief as she carried the doll to the mudroom, where she wouldnt have to look at it again until she decided what to do with it. For now, she was grateful that shed managed to buy herself some time with Evvie. It was entirely possible that the thing had been intended as a prank. It certainly wouldnt be the first time. But she wasnt ready to rule out the possibility that someoneFred Gilman, perhapswas behind the hideous straw effigy. Lizzy squinted at the power bar on her cell phone. Sixteen percent remaining. She reached for her charger, plugged it in, scrubbed at her eyes, and kept scrolling. Researching old newspaper articles on a three-by-five screen was far from optimal, but given Altheas distrust of technologyincluding the internetshe hadnt seen much point in bringing her laptop. Shed hoped something might jump out at her, something everyone had missed eight years ago, that might point her in a new direction, including where Susan Gilman might have gone when she left Salem Creek. But three hours of exhaustive searching had turned up nothing. Thered been no shortage of material, articles sourced from the local paper as well as out-of-state publications, each headline more gruesome than the last: Parents Beg for Safe Return of Missing Daughters. Grisly Scene at Moon Girl Farm. Bodies of Missing Girls Recovered from Local Pond. Double Homicide Rocks Quiet New England Town. Still No Arrest as Gilman Girls Are Laid to Rest. But harder to take than the headlines was the endless barrage of photos, grainy black-and-white images carefully placed to tug at readers emotions. There was the idyllic family portraitmother and father in back, daughters in front, dressed in what appeared to be Easter outfitsas well as several shots of the girls when they were older. The sisters were strikingly similar in appearance, pretty in the way most girls are pretty in their teens, fresh-faced and free of concern. But there were differences too. Darcy had wide eyes and a winning set of dimples. Heather had the same eyes, but the dimples were missing. Probably because she wasnt smiling in any of the photos. And there was something else about Heather that was different: a flinty sort of defiance peering back at the camera, in stark contrast to her younger sisters wide-open gaze. There were photos of the parents as well, most of them taken during press conferences or interviews. Susan Gilman looked virtually catatonic in all of them, as if sleepwalking through a nightmare, which she had been. And there was Fred, the grieving father, glaring straight at the camera. He looked washed-out and gaunt, but with the same hard edges shed seen in him yesterday. She studied his face, the pinched lips and flared nostrils, the almost palpable anger staring back at her from the photo. Was it the face of a grieving father, or a man capable of harming his own daughters? Was it possible to be both? And if so, how could she prove it? The question continued to nag as Lizzy closed the browser and set her phone aside. Shed spent the entire morning online, with zero to show for her efforts, when she should have been calling Realtors or going through the attic. But both options left her cold. She needed to move her body, to clear her head and work off some energy. Perhaps shed go back to the wildflower garden for an hour, and do some weeding. She was halfway down the stairs when she heard Andrews voice, along with Evvies, coming from the kitchen. After her abrupt departure last night, she would have preferred to keep some distance between them, but there was no way to get to the mudroom door without passing through the kitchen. They stopped talking the minute she entered the room. Not a good sign. Andrew turned to face her, the straw doll clutched in his fist. Were you planning to mention this? Lizzys head swiveled in Evvies direction, but she was already holding up her hands, absolving herself before Lizzy could get a word out. Dont go laying this at my door. I told you to get rid of it. Its not my fault he saw it when he came in. I found it this morning, Lizzy explained wearily. In the tree out front. I know it looks bad, but we dont really know what it means. Yesterday you paid Fred Gilman a visit. Today you find this. You dont think the two are related? I get how it looks, and that the timing is suspicious, but if Fred Gilman wanted to hurt me, he had the perfect opportunity last night when I was standing on his front porch. Can you honestly see him climbing a tree and hanging that thing up in the dark? Andrew blew out a long breath. You cant ignore this, Lizzy. It isnt like having your car keyed. You need to report it. Im not ignoring it. And I will report iteventually. Though, after what Roger told me about Summers the other day, I dont trust the police to lift a finger when it comes to the Moons. All I want right now is time to do what I need to do without the police muddying the water. Now, can we please drop it? If anyone needs me, Ill be in the wildflower garden, pulling weeds. She turned and walked out, leaving Andrew and Evvie to stare after her, knowing full well theyd have plenty to say once she was out of earshot. She didnt care. Bad juju or not, it was going to take more than a straw doll to scare her off. FOURTEEN July 26 Lizzy had to circle the block three times before she finally located a parking space near the ReadiMaxx office. She was far from eager to sit down with Southern New Hampshires Premier Residential Specialist, but shed already wasted an entire week. It was time to talk to someone, to get some idea about what to expect given the farms run-down condition. Not to mention the stigma of two dead girls turning up in the pond. The news wouldnt be goodshe was prepared for thatbut at least shed have some idea about what her options might be. She had some money in savings, but nowhere near enough to pay for the laundry list of repairs Andrew had rattled off. Maybe she could take out a small mortgage. Nothing huge, just enough to pay for the most urgent repairs, and swing the property taxes until the place sold. But what if it didnt? What if finding a buyer took years rather than months? Shed be risking foreclosure. The thought made Lizzys stomach churn as she dug in her wallet for coins to feed the meter. A nickel and two pennies were all she came up with. She scanned the businesses along Center Street, looking for somewhere to change a ten-dollar bill. Her choices were slim: the post office, a chiropractic clinic, a flower shop that was apparently closed on Mondaysand the coffee shop. She eyed the sign queasily. BREWED AWAKENINGS. The scene of Rhannas infamous last standstill here. Which was more than she could say for her mother. But then thered been no staying in Salem Creek after that particular spectacle. Rhanna had spotted a pair of women staring at her over their lattes, and had proceeded to stage a meltdown of epic proportions, railing about pious old biddies who simpered about turning the other cheek on Sundays, then turned into vipers the other six days of the week. She might have gotten away with it if shed stopped there. But Rhanna had never been one to do things by half. Instead, she walked to the center of the shop, raised her arms above her head, and in the name of all the Moon girls, living and dead, had called down a curse on every breathing soul in Salem Creekas if such a thing were actually possible. The so-called curse had produced the desired effect, emptying the shop in a matter of minutes. But thered been undesired effects as well, like the police showing up to investigate a threat reported by a half dozen townspeople. In the end, nothing came of it. There were no laws on the books regarding curses, threatened or otherwise. Word of the incident spread like a wildfire, and the outcry for something to be done about that Moon woman and her girls quickly swelled. The day after the vigil, Rhanna packed her van, pocketed Altheas emergency cash from the stoneware jug on top of the fridge, and disappeared, leaving her mother and daughter to deal with the fallout. And now, eight years later, one of those Moon girls was about to walk into the same shop and ask for change. The thought made Lizzys palms clammy. Perhaps shed just risk the ticket. But that was ridiculous. Instead, she turned and made herself push through the door with its tinkling brass bells. The shop hadnt changed much over the years: black-and-white floor tiles, scarred bistro tables lined up along yellow walls, potted ferns suspended from macram? hangers. Lizzy scanned the chalkboard menu while she waited in line, but her gaze kept straying to the woman working the register. She wasnt wearing a name badge, but she looked vaguely familiar. Lizzy watched as she rang up the man ahead of her, barked out his order to the baristamaple scone and a half-caf macchiato for Brandonthen opened a roll of quarters while he slid into the pickup line. She was still fumbling with the change wrapper when she closed the register and finally looked up. What can I get for you, hon? Her smile wavered, the crumpled coin wrapper in her fist forgotten. Lizzy Moon . . . It is Lizzy, isnt it? Lizzy squared her shoulders, trying to read the womans expression. Was it fear? Disdain? In the end she decided it didnt matter. Yes, its Lizzy. The womans face softened. I heard you were back. I was so sorry to hear about your grandmother passing. She was a fine lady. A fine, fine lady. Im sorry, Lizzy said, flustered at this unexpected show of kindness. I thought you looked familiar, but I dont remember your name. Im Judith Shrum. I was a customer of your grandmothers. Always knew just how to fix me up. Good as any doctor, if you ask me. She leaned forward, dropping her voice to a whisper. All those busybodies flapping their yaps about those poor girls. They had no idea what they were talking about. Anyone who knew Althea MoonI mean really knew herknew she wasnt capable of such a thing. Even their mother knew it. Lizzy seized on Judiths words. Mrs. Gilman? Susan. Yes, poor thing. We were friends, though we dont see each other much since she moved. Not that I blame her. She had a hard time of it. She told me once that she never felt right about what people were saying about your grandmother, how it just never sat with her. It seemed like She went quiet as a girl in a smudged apron and Brewed Awakening T-shirt sidled past with a spray bottle and cloth, resuming only when she was sure the girl was out of earshot. It always seemed to me like she had her own ideas about what happened. What . . . kind of ideas? Judith shrugged. She never said. Its only a feeling I had. And then one day she just stopped talking about it. Stopped talking about everything, really. Like shed tuned out the whole world. Again, not that I blame her. I did wonder, though, if her going quiet had to do with Fred. Bit of a bully, that one. I was sad when she moved, but Im glad shes away from him. Lizzy peered over her shoulder, relieved to find that there was no one lined up behind her. Do you still see her? Judith shook her head wistfully. No, but we still talk. She lives in Peabody now. Shes a hairdresser. Doing all right for herself too. She was seeing someone last time we spoke, which made me glad. She deserves some happiness after everything, a fresh start with fresh memories. Lizzy nodded. She understood better than most that sometimes a fresh start meant leaving a place. She also knew how hard it could be to look old memories in the eye. Was it fair to force herself into Susan Gilmans world, to rip the scab off a wound that might finally be healing? Shed made that mistake with Susans ex, and it hadnt gone well. But if she passed along her cell number by way of Judith Shrum, the decision would be Susans to make. Perhaps the years had rendered her more willing to share her ideas about the fate of her daughters. An hour and a half later, Lizzy left Chuck Bundys office with a virtually untouched vanilla latte and a throbbing pain behind her right eye. As expected, the prospects for an easy sale were far from rosy, though hed been careful to remind her several times throughout their conversation that he was speaking only in hypotheticals as it related to her particular property. Shed gotten a crash course in real estate, learning the many pitfalls inherent in the sale of distressed properties, and how price could vary wildly based on the number of comparable listings currently on the market. When asked about the possibility of a quick sale, hed been coolly evasive, suggesting they set up a time for him to come out and look around. Once he knew what he was dealing with, hed give her a list of options, and theyd come up with a battle plan. In the meantime, hed given her some homework: documents she needed to locate; calls she needed to make; forms shed need to procure, sign, and record with the county. Hed offered her a toothy smile as she left the office, assuring her that there was no such thing as an unsellable property, but now, as she drove home with terms like market saturation and stigmatized property rattling around in her head, she wasnt so sure. Nor was she looking forward to explaining it all to Luc, and telling him she would be delayed. Again. She was considering just how long she might be able to put off that conversation when her cell phone rang. She eyed the number on the hands-free display, wondering if shed actually conjured Luc, but the area code was 978 rather than 212not one she recognized. Hello? Miss Moon? Yes. Its Susan Gilman. Judith gave me your number. Lizzy was so surprised she could barely speak. Thank you so much for calling. I know this is awkward, but I was wondering if youd consider speaking with me. We could meet for coffee. It would need to be here in Peabody, she replied after a lengthy pause. I cant meet you in Salem Creek. No, I understand. Id be happy to come to you. Name the place, and Ill be there. Im not sure I can tell you anything that will prove helpful, but if you have questions, Ill answer whatever I can. I could meet you after work. Thank you, Mrs. Gilman. I cant tell you how much I appreciate this. Today then. After I finish my shift. Theres a bookstore at the malla Barnes and Noble. Ill be in the caf? at six. The caf? was packed when Lizzy arrived at ten minutes to six, students and business types mostly, hunched over laptops, earbuds plugged in. It took several passes before she spotted Susan Gilman seated at a corner table, and even then she had to do a double take. The years had changed her, but not in the way they had changed her husband. Her hair, always mousy and lank, was now a pale shade of blonde with rose-gold highlights, and her makeup looked as if it had been applied by a professional. In her boots and skinny jeans, she looked chic, almost edgy. Mrs. Gilman? Susan looked up from her magazine without smiling. I go by Ames now, my maiden name. It was just . . . easier. But please call me Susan. Lizzy nodded, understanding why her online searches had come up empty. Thanks so much for agreeing to see me. Can I get you a coffee? Thanks, Im all set. My last appointment canceled, so Ive been here awhile. She gestured toward the vacant chair and waited until Lizzy was seated. I hear you paid my ex-husband a visit. Lizzy opened her mouth, then closed it again, surprised that she knew about her visit to Fred Gilmans trailer. Dont look so surprised. We both know how that town works. Judiths husband works at Mason Electric. It didnt take long for word to spread that youd shown up looking for Fred. So howd it go? Not well. Im pretty sure he was trying to scare me off. Susan nodded grimly. Big man, my ex. Did he ever try to scare you? He didnt have to try. It came naturally. Was he . . . abusive? If youre asking did he hit meno. He got his point across in other ways. What other ways? Susan lifted her mug, cradling it between her palms. Her hands were shaking. There are all kinds of ways to be abusive, Ms. Moon. Ways that dont leave scars for the neighbors and the police to see. Did you ever call the police on your husband? Susan peered over the lipstick-stained rim of her mug. And say what? That he was being mean to me? That I was being punished for burning his toast or forgetting to buy new laces for his boots? No, I never called the police. I drank instead. Not too much, just enough to numb myself. Then a little more when that stopped working. Lizzy was getting a depressingly vivid picture of life as the wife of Fred Gilman. What about Heather and Darcy? Were they scared of their father? Scared? Of Fred? God forbid. Something new had crept into Susans expression, something deeper than sadness, and far more brittle. Lizzy remained quiet, waiting for her to say more. She didnt, choosing instead to pick at the frosty maroon polish on her left thumbnail. Lizzy shifted in her chair, feeling the womans pain, but needing desperately to get to the truth. Susan? Hmm? Oh, right. Were the girls afraid of him. That would be a huge no. Maybe if they had been, theyd still be here. Heather would have gone to prom, and Darcy would have gone to nursing school. Id have grandkids and scrapbooks full of vacation snaps. But I kept quiet, so none of that happened. Fred got his way like he always did. And look where it got him, where it got all of us. As far as Fred was concerned, those girls could do no wrong. He absolutely refused to see it. And he certainly didnt want to hear it from me. Didnt want to hear what? That Heather was out of control. That Darcy was right behind her. That if he didnt rein them in, something awful was going to happen. And something did. Her voice broke then, splintering with emotion. She looked away, fanning the tears that had pooled in her eyes. Im sorry, she said finally. Its just so hard to have been right. You know how you get that feeling, and you just know something bad is coming. And then when it does, you keep kicking yourself because you knew. You knew, and you didnt stop it. I live with that. Lizzy was groping for a response when she caught a whiff of something murky and dank, a combination of mildew and freshly turned earth. The mingled aromas of coffee and baked goods were so prevalent in the caf? that she hadnt noticed it until that moment, but the layers of emotion were unmistakable now. Loss. Regret. Soul-crushing grief. Before Lizzy could check herself, she had reached for Susans hand. What happened wasnt your fault. A mother cant protect her children from everything. No. Not when youre not allowed. Not allowed? I dont understand. Fred wouldnt let me discipline them. Not for anything. That was his job, he said. His girls, his job. He wouldnt let you discipline your own daughters? Susan glanced up from her thumb, where shed been at work again on her polish. A tear spilled down her left cheek. Thats just it. They werent mine. Not legally. Lizzy blinked at her. In all the coverage of the Gilmans eight years ago, that little detail had somehow escaped notice. He was married before? Christina. His high school sweetheart, if you can believe that. She died in a fire. Faulty wiring or something. Fred had taken the girls to his mothers for supper. By the time he got home, it was over. They found her in the bathtub. They think she must have been trying to protect herself from the flames. Lizzy suppressed a shudder, trying not to picture the scene. How old were the girls when you and Fred married? Heather was three. Darcy was a year and a half. You raised them. Susan nodded, brushing away another tear. Im the only mother they ever knew. Except I was never really allowed to be their mother. Fred never let me forget they were his girls, or that I was an outsider. Lizzy felt her anger at Fred Gilman bubbling up all over again. But he married you. Turns out he didnt want a wife so much as a housekeeper. Lucky me. I qualified for the job. By the time I realized what Id signed up for, I was too in love with his daughtersour daughtersto leave. Id have no right to them if I left. Id never see them again. You never formally adopted them? No. She wiped at her eyes, smearing her mascara. I wanted to, but Fred wouldnt even discuss it. They had a mother, and I wasnt her. It didnt matter that they didnt remember anyone but me singing them to sleep, or holding their heads when they were sick. He remembered. That sounds a little . . . Obsessive? Susan supplied bitterly. Only because it was. It was like she was a saint or something. It didnt help that the girls were the spitting image of herHeather especially. Every time he looked at her, he saw Christina. I think thats why he couldnt deny her anything. Even when he should have. I tried to tell him. I warned him that she was growing up too fast, that they both were, but he wouldnt listen. Hed just give me that look and tell me to mind my own business. Susans cheeks had flared a dark shade of red as she spoke. Lizzy was almost relieved. It was easier to witness her anger than her pain. Still, she needed to tread lightly if she wanted her to keep talking. I know this is hard, Susan, and that its the last thing you want to talk about, but I truly want to find out who hurt your daughters, and talking like this might help me piece something together that the police missed. Do you feel up to answering a few more questions? Susan was starting to look a little ragged around the edges, but she managed a nod. Ask whatever you need to. You said Heather was growing up too fast. What did you mean? Exactly what you think I meant. She was breaking curfew, sneaking around with boys, wearing trashy clothes, drinking. All the things a girl does right before she comes home and tells you shes pregnant. She paused, shaking her head. Can you believe thats what I was afraid of? That shed come home one day and tell us shed gotten herself in trouble? Back then I thought that was the worst thing that could happen. Did your husband know all this was going on? The drinking and the boys? Yes, he knew. I told himor tried to. He wouldnt listen. The night they . . . Susan closed her eyes briefly. The night they disappeared, I wanted to call the police, but Fred wouldnt let me. He said we didnt need the police in our business, and that the girls would come home when they were ready. We argued. It was awful. I couldnt believe he was being so cavalier. When I couldnt take it anymore, I got in the car and drove around. I hit all the spots I knew the kids went, but there was no sign of them. I knew something was wrong. A mother knows. I went home and ransacked their rooms, looking for somethinga diary, a phone numberanything that might help us find them. I found a box of condoms in Heathers nightstand. Three were missing. When I showed Fred the box, he told me he bought them. He bought our fifteen-year-old daughter . . . Her eyes welled with fresh tears. To keep her safe. Lizzy stood and went to the counter, returning with a handful of paper napkins. She waited while Susan blotted her eyes and pulled herself together. Im all right, she said finally, still clutching the crumpled napkins. Please go on. Do you know any of the boys she was seeing? I wish I did, but Heather and I were barely speaking at that point. You know how teenage girls are. As far as she was concerned, I was the enemy. And shed gotten very good at covering her tracks. Shed even recruited Darcy as an accomplice. What about her friends? Did any of them know who she was hanging around with? Shed split off from most of her regular friends by then, and was hanging with some new kids. Older kids I didnt know. I talked to several of the parents. Fred was furious. He accused me of trying to paint his daughterhis daughter, like I had nothing to do with raising heras a tramp. This brought Lizzy to the question shed really come to ask, uncomfortable though it might be. When I spoke to your husband the other day, I was struck by the fact that he didnt seem at all interested in finding out who really hurt your girls. Probably because he already knowsor thinks he does. In his mind, there was never anyone but your grandmother. But I always had my doubts. Two beautiful girls. Why would she do it? But Fred grabbed the story with both hands. He needed someone to blame. Someone who wouldnt make his precious Heather look like a bad girlor him like a bad father. Your grandmother was the perfect scapegoat. Speaking of scapegoats, Ive been wondering . . . Lizzy broke off, not sure how to form the question. Bad-mouthing your ex was one thing. Admitting he might be capable of harming his own daughters was something else altogether. And yet it had to be asked. Do you believe your ex-husband might be capable of violence? Susan had been staring at the wadded napkins in her hand. Her head came up sharply. Are you asking me if I think Fred killed our daughters? I suppose I am. Then no. My husband was a lot of things, but he would never hurt those girls. I know it sounds bizarre, but hurting them would have been like hurting Christina. Lizzy nodded, not because she accepted Susans answer at face value, but because she was right about it sounding bizarre. What shed just described was a complete reversal of the usual paradigm: the overprotective, chastity beltminded father at odds with the seemingly too-lenient mother. In this case, Fred Gilman had not only not threatened his oldest daughter with a chastity belt; hed given her a box of condoms, all the while claiming to be worried about her reputation. It boggled the mind. Which brought up another question. Im not making any judgments, Susan. I can only imagine how horrible that time must have been for you, but I do wonder why you never spoke up about your doubts. You were on the news nonstop, always being quoted in the papers, and I never once heard you contradict your husbands assertions that Althea was responsible for what happened to Heather and Darcy. Another ragged breath. A fresh rush of tears. I was afraid of him back then. Still am, I guess. And I was drinking. Not just enough to get numb anymore. Enough to get unconscious. It was the only way I could get through the days, through the pain, and the guilt, and Freds constant rages. I kept my mouth shut and I drank. And I went on drinking. And Salem Creek went on believing your grandmother killed my daughters. I live with that too. There was plenty for Lizzy to think about as she drove back from Peabody. The troubling dynamics of the Gilmans marriage for starters. Not only had Fred Gilman been emotionally abusive; hed been obsessed with his daughters as wellor at least with Heather, because shed looked like his dead wife. And there was something about the condoms and his paranoia about Heathers reputation that didnt square. Yet Susan had been adamant when she said her husband was incapable of harming his daughters, which basically left her nowhere on the question of Fred Gilman. But she had come away from the meeting with somethinga pair of names scribbled on a paper napkin. Cynthia Draper and Jenny Putnam had been friends of Heathers until a few months before the murders. It might come to nothing, but it was a place to start. Teenage girls didnt take being droppedghosting, they called it nowlying down. They would have known exactly who had replaced themand why. Now all she had to do was track them down and get them to talk.

  • Mans Search for Meaning /     (by Viktor E. Frankl, 1946) -   Mans Search for Meaning /
  • WALL-E / - (Disney, 2012)    WALL-E / - (Disney,
  • Revealed /  (by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast, 2013) -   Revealed / (by P.C.
  • Toy Story 2 /   2 (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story 2 /

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