The lights in the lake cottage sent out a cozy glow that
lit the banks of the lake and made that house of death
appear welcoming. Everything about the place and property
spoke of beauty and a deceptive invitation that made one
think that all was well with this world.
Because she was there, Rory Norwalk thought, as he moved a
few steps closer, his gaze on the cottage. She was the
heart of the house, the one who destroyed the balance, who
had ruined everything when she could have saved. She
claimed that she was a mender, a fixer, but Norwalk knew
that was all lies.
He was the one who would fix what was broken. Eve Duncan
only interfered and made a mockery of what was true and
right. But that was going to stop; he couldnâ€™t permit it
He stepped back in the shadow of the trees as a Jeep drove
up into the driveway.
It was the father and the son. It was the little boy who
had laughed. He laughed a lot; careless, joyous laughter
that was as deceptive as this house. How could he be joyous
when he lived with that woman who was so evil? Because he
was evil, too? Norwalk had suspected it and was almost
certain that the boy, Michael, would have to be fixed.
â€śStay here,â€ť Joe Quinn told his son as he got out of the
car and started up the porch steps. â€śIâ€™ll do it, but youâ€™ll
owe me, Michael. She told you not to do it again.â€ť
â€śHe wouldnâ€™t listen,â€ť Michael protested. â€śI tried, Dad.
Just explain so that she wonâ€™t get upset. Okay?â€ť
â€śNo, itâ€™s not okay. But Iâ€™ll call you in after I break it
to her.â€ť Heâ€™d reached the porch, and he looked back down at
the little boy in the car. â€śYou sit there and think about
what youâ€™re going to say to your mother. And you start off
with telling her that youâ€™re not going to do it again.â€ť
â€śBut I may have to do it again,â€ť the little boy said
quietly. â€śI canâ€™t lie to her.â€ť
Joe Quinn sighed. â€śNo, you canâ€™t. Weâ€™ll think of
something.â€ť He disappeared into the house.
Leaving the little boy alone in the car.
The boy was not often left alone, Norwalk knew. He was only
six, and his mother was very careful since they lived on
the lake. And Joe Quinn was a police detective, and he was
wary of everything and everyone.
Was this moment of abandonment meant to be a sign to
Norwalk? It was not why he was here, though heâ€™d mentally
already accepted that down the road it must be done. He was
very quick, and children were so gullible. It would only
take a few moments. He instinctively moved faster through
the trees, his gaze on the boy in the Jeep.
But the boy was no longer in the Jeep.
Heâ€™d gotten out of the vehicle and was standing on the last
porch step. He was dressed in jeans and a navy-blue
sweatshirt and his legs were slightly parted. The light
from the porch light was burnishing his red-brown hair as
if it were a copper helmet.
Helmet? Why had that word occurred to him, Norwalk
wondered. It was because the boyâ€™s bearing looked almost
military, he realized. He looked like a soldier guarding a
As ridiculous as the idea that the boy was looking directly
to where Norwalk was standing under the trees and could see
him. It was pitch-dark, there was no way he could be seen.
But that little boy knew he was there.
And he was not afraid.
Norwalk instinctively faded farther back in the trees.
Oh, he had been right to judge that Michael Quinn would
also have to be taken out before that cozy house would be
cleansed of all that was broken.
But not right now.
Just a little longer, Sean. Iâ€™m just as eager as you, but
we have to keep to the plan, donâ€™t we?
And all good things came to he who was willing to wait.
â€śLord, you smell good.â€ť Joe slid his hands around Eveâ€™s
waist from behind. â€śFried onions and bacon. Is there any
scent more appetizing?â€ť
â€śIt depends if youâ€™re hungry.â€ť She turned around and went
into his arms. â€śNot exactly an alluring perfume if the aim
â€śIs that the aim? If it is, you must have gotten the
reconstruction off today.â€ť
She nodded. â€śThis afternoon.â€ť She chuckled. â€śBut since when
did work stop us?â€ť She leaned back, and her gaze narrowed
on his face. â€śAnd since when did you decide to pussyfoot
around instead of coming out with what youâ€™re thinking?â€ť
He sighed. â€śI was trying for mellow and soothing. I
promised Michael Iâ€™d do my best.â€ť
She went still. â€śDo your best to do what?â€ť
â€śBreak it to you gently.â€ť
â€śHe has a few bruises and a swollen lip.â€ť
â€śWhat?â€ť She pushed him away. â€śWho?â€ť
She swore beneath her breath. â€śSame reason?â€ť
He nodded. â€śHe did what you told him to do. The kid
wouldnâ€™t listen. Boys arenâ€™t usually receptive to
persuasion or reason at that age.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s a bully.â€ť
â€śAnd a head taller than Michael. I saw this Gary Walden
when I picked Michael up from soccer practice tonight.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s the third time that heâ€™s come home with bruises.
The soccer coach should have stepped in and stopped it.â€ť
â€śProbably didnâ€™t know about it. Michael wouldnâ€™t complain.
You know that.â€ť
Yes, she knew very well that Michael would keep his
silence. Her son would quietly take whatever came his way
and try to work his way through to a solution. That had
been the way he handled problems from the time he was a
toddler. Only this time the punishment he was taking was
because of her, dammit. â€śMaybe I should talk to this Garyâ€™s
â€śWhich might make it worse for Michael.â€ť
And that was why she had been avoiding doing that. â€śKids
can be savages.â€ť
â€śAbsolutely,â€ť Joe said. â€śAnd TV and pop culture have led
them to think that to latch onto something out of the
ordinary and make fun of it is the way to go. But Michael
will get bigger and stronger.â€ť His lips tightened. â€śIâ€™ve
signed him up for a karate class. And a few more lessons in
karate from me will even out the odds in the meantime. The
problem will go away.â€ť
Her lips twisted. â€śAnd this Gary will no longer tell
Michael his mother is some kind of a ghoul who collects
skulls for a hobby?â€ť
â€śNot where Michael can hear him.â€ť He smiled. â€śCome on,
youâ€™re the foremost forensic sculptor in the world. What
difference does it make what that kid says?â€ť
â€śIt matters if it hurts Michael.â€ť
â€śIt doesnâ€™t hurt Michael,â€ť Joe said. â€śYou know that, Eve.
Heâ€™s only worried that it will upset you.â€ť His hand reached
out and touched her cheek. â€śThatâ€™s why he wanted me to
break those damn bruises to you. He only wants to make
certain that nothing ever hurts you.â€ť He leaned forward,
kissed her gently, and drew her close. â€śThatâ€™s what we all
want. You know how smart Michael is. So give him a little
time to work this out for himself.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s only six, Joe.â€ť Her words were muffled against his
â€śGoing on thirty. Youâ€™ve always known heâ€™s not like other
Yes, sheâ€™d known from the time Michael had been conceived
that he was wonderful and special and he had never
disappointed her. He was superintelligent and had the
sweetest nature on the planet. But that didnâ€™t mean it
wasnâ€™t her job to keep on protecting him. She had lost her
daughter, Bonnie, who was only seven when she had died
after being taken. It had nearly broken her heart. Michael
was almost that age now, and whenever she thought about it,
the fear returned. Block it. It wasnâ€™t fair to Michael to
live anything but a full and joyous life. â€śYeah, I know.
But maybe Iâ€™m not quite as grown up. I need a little
bolstering on occasion.â€ť She pushed him away. â€śOkay, I
suppose you left him outside until you paved the way for
Joe nodded. â€śIn the Jeep. I told him Iâ€™d give him a call
when you were ready for him.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m always ready for him.â€ť She headed for the front door.
â€śWatch the potatoes for me, Joe?â€ť
â€śSure.â€ť He turned back to the stove. â€śTell him, I did my
â€śHe knows that you would.â€ť She smiled back at him. â€śAnd
youâ€™d better be quick about getting him very good at that
karate. I donâ€™t know how many of these sessions I can
â€śAn eternity,â€ť he said softly. â€śI know you, Eve.â€ť
He was right, she thought. There were no limits for her
where Michael was concerned.
She went out on the porch. â€śOkay, Michael. Come out and
face the music. Your father has given me the lowdown and he
tried toâ€”â€ť She stopped. Michael was not in the Jeep, and
there was something about the way he was standing on that
bottom step that was â€¦ odd. â€śMichael?â€ť
He turned and gave her a radiant smile that lit his entire
face. â€śIâ€™m coming, Mama.â€ť He turned and ran up the stairs.
â€śI was just looking out at the lake. Itâ€™s pretty tonight,
isnâ€™t it?â€ť He hugged her. â€śIâ€™m hungry. Can we eat before
you yell at me about Gary?â€ť
She held him close for an instant. â€śThat might be
possible.â€ť She released him and opened the front door. â€śI
thought you might want to stay out here on the porch and
have it out first.â€ť
â€śNah.â€ť His smile took on a hint of mischief. â€śI know Dad
made sure that you wouldnâ€™t be too mad at me. Heâ€™s a guy,
too. He knows about these things.â€ť He glanced at the lake
and woods, then turned and headed for the door. â€śI donâ€™t
want to stay out here. Iâ€™d rather go in with you and eat
â€śOkay, talk to me,â€ť Eve said as she cuddled Michael closer
to her on the couch after supper. â€śI told you that if you
couldnâ€™t handle Gary yourself, you were to go to your
teacher. Why didnâ€™t you do it?â€ť
â€śHe would have got in trouble.â€ť
â€śAnd he didnâ€™t hurt me that bad. He was just scared.â€ť