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A decade ago, teenaged clairvoyant Rebecca Ryan gained notoriety helping the local police solve high-profile cases. Then came the shocking kidnapping that hit close to home; the first crime she couldn't solve.
Haunted by guilt since the shattering day her beloved kid brother was found murdered, Rebecca has finally made a fresh start in New Orleans. Then comes the all-too-familar vision: Mind-numbing terror. Shattering pain. The grim certainty that somewhere, a child has been kidnapped from his bed in the middle of the night. A child who shares Rebecca's last name--and perhaps, her brother's grim fate.
Back in quaint Sinclair, West Virginia, Rebecca intends to use her psychic gift to find her cousin's missing son before it's too late. But some people in town--and in the Ryan household itself--still resent her for what her second sight did. Some haven't forgiven her for what it couldn't do. And one vengeful soul is determined that Rebecca and her family will once again pay a deadly ransom...
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Carlene Thompson is the author of Last Whisper, Black for Remembrance, Nowhere to Hide, and Don’t Close Your Eyes, among other books. She attended college at Marshall University and earned her Ph.D. in English from Ohio State University. She taught at the University of Rio Grande, before leaving to focus on her writing full-time. Besides writing, she spends her time caring for the many dogs and cats she's adopted. A native West Virginian, she lives with her husband Keith in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
FRIDAY, 9:25 P.M.
“This is WCWT in Sinclair, West Virginia, bringing you one of our favorite oldies, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ by the Verve.”
String music soared throughout the car and Rebecca Ryan rolled her eyes. “Since when does a song from 1997 count as a golden oldie?” Her Australian shepherd, Sean, sitting on the bucket seat across from her, looked back alertly. “I wonder what they call songs from the fifties? Prehistoric?”
Rebecca drained the last bit of strong, lukewarm coffee from her Styrofoam cup and stuck it in the plastic trash bag along with two other used cups. Her stomach churned, her eyes burned, and her hands trembled. Too much caffeine and too little sleep. And fear. It had coursed through her since last night, when her cousin Molly had called her in New Orleans and said, “Aunt Esther has cancer.”
“Well, that’s not possible,” Rebecca had said inanely, thinking of the woman who’d radiated health and energy since Rebecca was a little girl. According to Molly, seventy-five-year-old Esther had just told the family she would have surgery and begin radiation therapy in less than two weeks. Esther wanted no sympathy and she wanted no one except immediate family to know of her condition. “She told me not to tell you in particular,” Molly had said late last night on the phone after waiting until her seven-year-old son Todd had gone to sleep because she didn’t want him to get upset. “Esther doesn’t want you coming all the way from New Orleans, especially because Sinclair has such bad memories for you. So you have to think up an excuse for this trip.”
An excuse? Rebecca was still working on that one, her mind having been occupied with the flurry of the hurried trip. She’d been unable to make the earliest flights from New Orleans to Charleston, West Virginia, and had to wait until a mid-afternoon one with a layover in Pittsburgh. She hadn’t had time to make arrangements for boarding her dog, Sean, and getting him unloaded from the plane and renting a car had taken extra time before the 60-mile drive to Sinclair. Through it all Rebecca had been unable to catch up on the sleep she’d lost last night and she was now tired and feeling slow-witted.
Rebecca flipped off the radio. Music that had helped to keep her awake now blurred into irritating noise. She glanced at Sean. “You look fresh as a daisy. No wonder. Thanks to that tranquilizer, you slept through both flights.” The dog gazed at her, panting. “I know you’re not crazy about kids in general, but I hope you like my nephew Todd. He’ll be crazy about you.” A drop of saliva rolled off Sean’s tongue onto the seat. “My mother will like you, too, as long as you don’t drip on any of her beautiful clothes.”
When she was a child, Rebecca had adored her lovely mother Suzanne’s thick, wheat-colored hair, azure eyes, and slender-boned body. She’d had quick, tinkling laughter and a personality that alternated easily between adult and childlike. One evening she could be the gracious, polished hostess at a dinner party. The next morning she could wholeheartedly throw herself into one of Rebecca’s tea parties or a game of hide-and-seek with her and her brother Jonnie.
A sudden pain reamed like a knife in Rebecca’s stomach at the thought of Jonnie. Three years younger than she, Jonathan Patrick Ryan had been a beautiful, happy baby who’d grown into an agile, high-spirited boy with a cap of blond curls and a devilish glint in his bright blue eyes. When he was very small he had allowed Rebecca to dress him up and treat him like her own beloved baby. When he was older, he’d shrugged off her coddling and insisted on being treated as an equal. In later years they’d played together, shared secrets, squabbled, tattled on each other, and managed to always remain best friends. She hadn’t been able to imagine life without him. She hadn’t thought she would ever be without him.
She’d been wrong.
Sean pawed at her arm, sensing her tension. “We’re almost . . . there.” She’d nearly said home, but Sinclair wasn’t home and hadn’t been for the eight years since Jonnie had been murdered. She hadn’t visited since she’d left for Tulane University in New Orleans when she was eighteen. She’d intended never to return.
Her stomach tightened as she drove into the Sinclair city limits. To her right was the huge brick Baptist church that dated to 1870. Molly had told her a few ambitious parishioners had lobbied for an addition, but the historic preservationists had quashed the motion. Ahead, Leland Park overlooked the Ohio River. Rebecca had always loved the park with its tennis courts, rose gardens with brick paths, and two-story River Museum. She noticed that the eight acres of land were as beautifully maintained as always, benches, birdfeeders, and old-fashioned water fountains painted pristine white. Even the bandstand, built in the early 1900s and the site of summer night concerts, looked brand-new. Long ago, Suzanne had brought her and Jonnie to the concerts. One time Jonnie hid. Certain he’d fallen into the river and drowned, Suzanne had promptly lapsed into hysterics. Rebecca had found him hiding under the bandbox and was deeply disappointed when he didn’t receive the spanking she would have for playing such a trick.
As Rebecca drove through town, she saw that Main Street looked just the same as when she’d left. About ten years ago several merchants had banded together in fury over the business drained by the huge new mall that seemed to erupt overnight on the outskirts of town. Their defense had been to make their establishments appear quaint, thereby charming customers away from the indistinguishable stores in the modern, Muzak-filled mall. The result was three town blocks that looked as if they could have been lifted from a Dickens novel. Rebecca found it unbearably precious. And to the best of her knowledge, business had improved for only a couple of years until the curiosity wore off. But the flagging enthusiasm of the merchants for their brilliant project showed only in the occasional set of faded shutters or rust-edged wrought-iron trim.
Rebecca slowed as she neared the former Vinson Drug Store, now Vinson’s Apothecary Shoppe. She’d packed in a hurry and had spent part of her flight time ticking off a list of toiletries she’d forgotten. The place was still open and stopping here would be much faster than going to the mall. She parked and rolled down the windows a fraction so Sean could have fresh air
As she emerged from the car, she saw storm clouds billowing against the slate gray sky just turning black. Inside the store the attempt to keep up the Victorian motif continued with Currier & Ives prints on the walls. A few small wrought-iron tables and chairs had been placed in front of a minuscule soda fountain, behind which stood a bored teenage girl chewing gum and flipping through a magazine. At the prescription counter was an array of large, ornate bottles filled with “potions” that were really colored water. She knew the last touch had been the inspiration of Matilda Vinson, the store’s owner and pharmacist.
Rebecca cursed the unlabeled aisles that made it necessary for her to cruise around until she found body lotion, disposable razors, toothpaste, and a bottle of soaking solution for her contact lenses. She picked up an overpriced bag of generic kibble for Sean, promising herself to get something better tomorrow, and headed for the checkout counter.
She paid no attention to the woman behind the register until she noticed the clerk wasn’t ringing up her purchases. Rebecca glanced up to see silvery gray eyes regarding her coldly. The woman was young with short platinum hair, straight dark eyebrows, and thin scarlet lips. Rebecca felt color creep into her face as she realized she was staring into the face of someone who used to be a close friend.
“Hello, Lynn,” she said without false friendliness.
“Rebecca.” Lynn Cochran Hardison flicked her light eyes up and down Rebecca’s slim height. “You’re looking well. Life away from Sinclair must agree with you.”
“I love New Orleans.” Rebecca pushed her items closer to the cash register as she talked. “How have you been?”
“Fine. Very happily married.”
“Good. I’m glad things are working out for you and Doug.”
“Of course they’re working out. We’ve always loved each other,” Lynn announced as if expecting an argument. “I thought you’d come to our wedding. After all, Doug is your stepbrother.”
“I knew you didn’t want me there, Lynn.”
“Why would I? You caused me a lot of pain, Rebecca.”
Rebecca sighed. “Lynn—”
“Is this all you want?” Lynn suddenly looked angry. “We’re having a sale on aspirin. With all those so-called ESP visions rattling around in your head, you must get plenty of headaches.”
Here we go, Rebecca thought dismally. The specter of the extrasensory perception that had first manifested itself when she was nine was still following her, more of a curse than a gift.
“Lynn, we can’t change the past,” Rebecca said evenly. “I’m sorry I’ve hurt you, but we’re family now. Can’t we work at healing old wounds?”
The speech sounded sententious to her own ears and Rebecca wasn’t surprised by Lynn’s scowl. “Forget what happened? That would be convenient for you, wouldn’t it?” Lynn grabbed the toothpaste and jabbed buttons on the register. “Just wreak havoc, then go your merry way, live your good life in New Orleans, forget all the damage you’ve done here.” She swiped at the razors and dog food. “And I heard you’ve written a book. Trying to cash in on your brother’s murder? I’m sure you didn’t mention how your fabulous ESP suddenly went on the fritz and you didn’t save him.”
Rebecca quietly absorbed the sting of hearing how she’d failed Jonnie, looking down so Lynn couldn’t see the pain in her eyes. How hard it was to believe this razor-voiced woman once had been a friend.
“My book isn’t about Jonnie,” Rebecca managed. “It’s a murder mystery but it’s fiction.”
“I wouldn’t know. I sure as hell wouldn’t read it. And you owe twenty-two seventy-three.”
Rebecca handed over thirty dollars, took her change, and picked up the plastic bag in which Lynn had stuffed her purchases. “Good-bye, Lynn.”
“I’ll give your regards to Doug, even though you didn’t even bother to ask about him,” Lynn called tartly as Rebecca headed for the door.
Rebecca closed her eyes when she heard Matilda Vinson utter a sharp “Lynn!” as she descended on her employee for what would surely be a dressing-down. It was deserved, Rebecca thought, but it would only deepen Lynn’s resentment.
“Rebecca!” Miss Vinson called. “Rebecca, dear, please forgive Lynn. She’s had a long day.”
Rebecca smiled at the small, sixty-year-old whirling dervish of a woman who had worked in the drugstore for nearly forty years. “It’s all right. Lynn and I understand each other.”
“I see.” Matilda still looked distressed. “Are you home for a visit or returning to us for good?”
“Just a visit.” Lynn’s silvery gaze seemed to burn through Rebecca and she felt desperate to escape the store. “I’ll be going back to New Orleans in a week or so.”
“That’s a shame. We miss you around here. I remember when you were just a little thing and came in with your father. I always gave you a butterscotch candy and you acted like I’d handed you a piece of gold.” Matilda looked out the front windows. “Good heavens, what a storm is brewing! You can’t go out in this. Go back and have an ice-cream soda and wait it out.”
“It’s closing time,” Lynn announced.
“I will decide when we close!” Color rode high on Matilda Vinson’s cheeks and Rebecca thought that Lynn must not value her job to be so insolent. “Please stay for a few minutes, Rebecca.”
“I can’t,” Rebecca said abruptly, heading for the door. “I left my dog in the car. He’s terrified of storms. Besides, if I hurry, I can get home before it hits.”
“Well, be careful, dear,” Matilda called after her.
Outside the wind had picked up sharply. Tree limbs bent backward and a metal trash can rolled across Main Street. A few raindrops pelted her with stinging force. In the distance Rebecca saw a streak of lightning cast a blue glow against the dark sky. She forgot to count until the thunder rumbled, loud and ominous. If she believed in signs, she would have considered a storm her first night back in Sinclair a bad omen.
Wind snapped her long auburn hair across her face and plastered her slacks against her legs. She opened the car door and jumped in. Sean nearly leaped onto her lap. She grabbed his collar and pushed him back to his seat, speaking soothingly as he panted in agitation. She handed him a rawhide chew stick that he held in his mouth like a cigar, too nervous to eat it.
Slowly she pulled away from the curb and started down the street. She turned up the speed of the windshield wipers. Lightning viciously sliced the sky again and a wave of rain slapped the car hard enough to make her swerve. Main Street was strangely empty at nine-forty. The marquees of the two theaters valiantly tried to glow through the torrent of water. Rebecca doubted if many people had shown up for the second movie showing.
Less than a quarter of a mile ahead, Rebecca sat at what seemed an interminable red light. Across the intersection she noticed a large, white stucco structure with dramatic, sweeping lines. A sign on the front lawn bore the name DORMAINE’S RESTAURANT in black lettering bold enough for her to see through the rain.
She turned left at the light. An explosion of thunder followed a glittering spear of lightning, making Sean yelp and Rebecca cringe. The lightning had been too close for comfort, although she knew the rubber tires of the car protected them from electric shock. A dull throbbing had started at her right temple. It was a familiar pain, although she hadn’t felt it for quite a while. She would think of something else, forget it, take some aspirin when she got home. Thank goodness it wasn’t too much farther to the Ryan house, she thought, watching the wipers swipe uselessly across the windshield. Back and forth. Back and forth . . .
The rain-smeared windshield slowly blurred, then began to disappear. Rebecca tried to focus, to shut out all that was not tangible, but with dreamlike inevitability, she felt herself drift from her own consciousness into someone else’s. . . .
Rough cloth was tied around his face and around his mouth. Blindfolded and gagged, that’s what he was. Beneath him was something hard—wood, probably—and his right hip and arm were numb. Something was tied around his ankles and his hands were pulled behind his back and trapped by rope, the skin beneath it raw from fruitless rubbing. He felt sick, like he wanted to throw up, and his head hurt real bad. He thought he might cry, which would be awful because none of his movie heroes would cry and he’d feel like a complete baby.
He tried inhaling deeply in an effort to stop the crying, but the air was hot and smelled awful. Rotten. And he could hear thunder outside and rain beating against windows. Bright pinpoints of light sparkled in front of his burning eyes. He was afraid. Deathly afraid. Thunder boomed and he shuddered, pulling himself up into a ball. Uttering guttural sobs, he inched across the floor until his face touched something soft. Tramp, his stuffed dog. Tramp who saved the baby from the rat in Lady and the Tramp. Maybe Tramp could save him, too . . .
Slowly Rebecca’s vision faded. The thoughts of the little boy were drowned out by the sound of rain pounding on her windshield. The hood of the car pointed toward something large and looming. Rebecca blinked, aware that she’d returned to her own reality but unfortunately too late. She jerked the steering wheel to the right, but the car plunged at a giant tree trunk. The noise of screeching metal seemed far away as the hood of her car crumpled. Rebecca had worn her seat belt, ho...
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Book Description St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2001. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0312979797
Book Description St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2001. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0312979797