Caroline Webb knows what it means to lose the person you love most. Twenty years ago, her five-year-old daughter, Hayley, was the light of her life, her treasure, her angle. Then came the terrible day when Hayley was kidnapped from her favorite swing. More than a month passed before her burned, lifeless body was found. All that remained was the silence of Caroline's heartache--and her guilt...
Now, Caroline has started over with a new husband. She even has another precious daughter, Melinda. She thinks she has put the ghosts of her past behind her. But without warning, those ghosts once again start to echo in the night. Suddenly, Hayley's favorite doll reappears...strange murders rock the Webbs' small town...Caroline even claims she has heard the voice of the little girl she lost all those years ago. Could Hayley still be out there somewhere, somehow? Now a killer waits in the wings--waiting to make Caroline live her worst nightmare yet...
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Carlene Thompson is the author of Last Whisper, 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.:
“WHY DID YOU give me peanut butter instead of cream cheese?” Caroline Webb looked at her eight-year-old daughter, Melinda, who was peering critically between slices of wheat bread. “Daddy said cream cheese could spoil before noon.” “Jenny brings cream cheese sandwiches.” “Jenny also came down with a mild case of food poisoning two weeks ago.” David Webb straightened his tie in front of the kitchen mirror, then turned to grin at his daughter, his craggy features creasing with homely amiability. “You don’t want to get sick, do you?” “I guess not.” Melinda clumsily rewrapped her sandwich in Saran Wrap and poked through her Barbie lunch box. “Cherry Kool-Aid in my thermos?” “Apple juice,” Caroline said. “Yuck. And where are my Reese Cups?” “I gave you a granola bar instead.” Melinda groaned in agony, and her father swooped over her, his fingers digging into her thin sides. “Shut up and stop pestering your mom, kid.” “Daddy, quit it!” Melinda laughed. “Not until you tell me how much you love granola.” “Never!” David tickled harder. “Okay, I love it, I love it!” Melinda shrieked. David let go and she fell into a gasping heap of giggles on the yellow-and-white linoleum floor. George, their black Labrador, rushed over to bathe her in kisses, which brought on a fresh attack of hysterics. “What’s all the noise?” Greg Webb, fifteen, ambled into the kitchen, his curtly black hair still wet from the shower. “Mommy gave me apple juice and granola,” Melinda told him in injured tones as she struggled to her feet. “Hippie food,” Greg announced. “They ate that kind of stuff in the sixties.” Caroline cocked an eyebrow at him. “Around here we still eat it. And Melinda, if you want to be a ballerina, you have to eat healthy food. Reese Cups will make you so fat no one can lift you.” “Bafishnirof can.” “Baryshnikov And he’ll be retired by the time you’re a prima ballerina.” “Oh, damn,” Melinda muttered, then flushed and added hastily, “I mean darn.” “Sunday school’s doing the child a world of good,” David said, dropping a kiss on his daughter’s chestnut hair. “Can you sue Sunday school teachers?” Caroline put the last plate in the dishwasher and shut the door. “No, only doctors.” David grimaced. “Don’t remind me. I just wrote a check for my malpractice insurance last night.” He shrugged into his raincoat. “I’m getting out of this madhouse.” He wrapped an arm around Caroline’s slim waist. “What’s on your agenda today?” “I’m taking some things over to Lucy’s, then going to the grocery store. Fidelia’s coming.” David rolled his dark eyes. “Out of all the cleaning ladies in the city, why are we blessed with the one who practices voodoo?” “Just because she’s from Haiti doesn’t mean she practices voodoo.” “Well, she’s always messing around with tea leaves.” “Not tea leaves, Daddy,” Melinda piped. “Tarot cards. Fidelia says I’m the Page of Cups.” “Reese Cups, no doubt.” Melinda giggled, but David frowned into Caroline’s eyes. “I don’t know that I like all this hocus-pocus around the kids,” he said in the fogyish tone that drove Caroline crazy. “It’s just for fun,” she explained, keeping the irritation from her voice. “She’s a perfectly respectable person. She even taught school in Haiti.” “So why is she cleaning houses here?” “Something about not having the teaching credentials, and there was a sick father until a few months ago. They couldn’t afford a nursing home, and Fidelia had to spend most of her time with the old man. But anyway, she cleans for six other families, not just for us. She’s thorough and polite. She’s even teaching Melinda a little French.” “And I’m an old sourpuss.” David kissed her cheek. “I’m sorry. If you’re happy with her, that’s all that counts.” And it was, Caroline knew. Her husband adored her in his preoccupied way, and he did his best to tolerate her acceptance of people who were very different from herself, although he didn’t understand it. Caroline kissed David’s cheek, which always showed an underlying shadow of heavy black beard that no longer matched his mostly silver hair. “Don’t deliver too many babies today,” she said affectionately. “There’s nary a one on schedule, but that doesn’t mean a thing.” He turned to the kids. “Who wants a ride to school?” “Me!” Melinda clicked shut the offending lunch box. “When Greg walks me he always drags along looking at girls, and I want to get there early to check on Aurora.” David frowned. “Who in the world is Aurora?” “My bean sprout. I told you already. I call her Aurora because that was Sleeping Beauty’s name, and my bean sprout’s still sleeping.” She looked forlorn. “All the other kids’ sprouts are growing.” “Maybe Fidelia can cast a spell on Aurora,” Greg said, peeling a banana in spite of the massive breakfast he had consumed twenty minutes earlier. “Bean sprouts,” David sighed. “In my day we read Shakespeare.” “In the third grade?” Caroline asked dryly. “I was a child prodigy.” “Don’t let him kid you, squirt,” Greg said to his sister. “When he was in the third grade, Shakespeare hadn’t even been born.” David threw a dishcloth at him and Caroline laughed, knowing that age jokes didn’t faze her husband, even though at fifty-six he was older than the fathers of Greg’s friends. “You can walk to school.” He took Melinda’s hand. “Come on—by the time we finally make it to school, Aurora will be a foot tall.” “I’ll see you guys after school,” Caroline said. Melinda shook her head in a violent negative. “I’m supposed to go to Jenny’s after school, remember? Her mom’s making spaghetti.” Caroline frowned “Is her mother going to pick you up at school?” “Sure. And she’ll drive me home.” “I guess it’s okay then, although I’d feel better if I were picking you up.” “But Mommy, it’s all fixed.” “And I have basketball practice,” Greg said, tossing away the empty banana peel. “Then I’m taking Julie for pizza.” “I want you home by eight.” “ Eight! None of the other guys have stupid curfews like I do.” “It’s a school night, and considering your grades—” “Eight is a little early, Caroline,” David said. “Eight-thirty.” Greg’s face settled into the prickly lines that had become familiar since he reached adolescence. “Great. I ought to be safe from werewolves at that hour.” “Not if there’s a full moon,” Caroline said sweetly, and Greg grinned in spite of himself. She looked at David. “Looks like it’s just you and me.” “Honey, it’s Monday. I have evening office hours.” “Oh, David, I thought we decided you were only going to be in the office Tuesday and Friday nights. Three nights a week is too much.” “I know. I’ll cut back as soon as I can get things squared away.” Caroline had no idea what had to be “squared away.” It was merely another one of David’s excuses when he didn’t want to argue about his work, which consumed him. She sighed and let the point go. “I promise I’ll be back by nine,” David said. “Sure.” Caroline forced a smile, knowing that meant ten at the earliest. The four of them trailed out the door into the garage. While David helped Melinda strap herself into the seat of the Mercedes, Caroline snapped on the automatic garage door opener and the big door whirred upward. With exaggerated teenaged nonchalance, Greg loped away without a backward look, but Melinda waved as if she were leaving on an ocean voyage while David backed out. Thank goodness she’s over those crying jags that sent her home from school at least two days a week last spring, Caroline thought. Lots of attention and time at home with her mother over the summer had eased whatever anxiety Melinda was feeling but refused to reveal. Now she seemed relatively content with school, although her teacher Miss Cummings said she had a tendency to cling. Maybe she picked that up from me, Caroline mused. I’ve always been overprotective with her and Greg. But what mother with my experience wouldn’t be? She smiled and waved back at Melinda. Then she shut the door, poured a second cup of coffee, and sat down at the kitchen table with George stretched out beside her. They had moved into the house nine years before, when Caroline learned she was pregnant with their second child, and she had loved the place since the first day. But especially, she loved her big, airy kitchen with its island range and the huge antique maple table facing a floor-to-ceiling window. This morning she looked out on their acre of front lawn, still green beneath a wisteria-blue October sky. White and yellow chrysanthemums massed themselves in thick beds beneath the window, and a crimson cardinal perched importantly atop the wrought-iron lawn lamp. “I’m a very lucky woman,” she said aloud, listening to the thump of George’s tail on the floor as he stared up at her. “I’m an incredibly lucky woman. If only I could forget …” Her stomach was starting to tighten in that sickeningly familiar way, when someone tapped on the kitchen door and she ran to open it, absurdly happy to see Fidelia, gazing back at her. “I’m early. Too early? I can go away for a while.” “Don’t be silly. I’m glad you’re here.” Fidelia stepped in, her bare arms speckled with goosebumps. “I don’t know when you’re going to realize you’re not in Haiti anymore and start dressing for cold weather. How about some coffee to warm you up?” “Sounds good. Sugar, no cream.” Caroline loved Fidelia’s honeyed Caribbean accent an English-speaking, Ohio-born father and several years in the United States had done nothing to temper. She stooped, her faded red-print cotton dress flowing out around her thin, bare legs. “Hello dere, George, my handsome man!” The dog rolled on his back for a belly rub, which Fidelia laughingly administered. “Dis is de biggest baby in de house.” “You’d be surprised at how protective he can be, though,” Caroline said, pouring coffee. “Last year a man broke in one night when David was gone, and George nearly took off his hand. Then the guy had the nerve to try to sue us, but of course he got nowhere.” “You should be glad you live in Ohio, not California. A judge might have listened to him out dere.” They sat down at the table, and Fidelia, looked at Caroline closely, her strange light-blue eyes sharp in her café-au-lait face. “You all right dis morning?” “Of course.” Caroline smiled. “Well, at least I was until about ten minutes ago. Then I started thinking about something sad.” “Your little girl—Hayley?” Caroline looked at her in surprise. “You are psychic.” Fidelia shook her head. “You don’t have to be psychic to know when a woman is grieving over a child.” “But I’ve never mentioned Hayley to you.” “I’ve lived in dis town five years. I’ve heard a lot of talk in all dat time, especially since I work for another lady who knows you.” Caroline’s eyes drifted back to the gay chrysanthemums. “Yes, I should have thought of that. I think Alice Anderson’s favorite topic of conversation is the kidnapping and murder of my little girl and my divorce from Chris.” “Yes, Mrs. Anderson she talks a lot. But why is Hayley on your mind today?” “She’s always on my mind. But last night I dreamed about her. It was a terrible, frightening dream about her death. It was very brutal.” “I know all de details,” Fidelia said softly. “And also, today is Hayley’s birthday. I always put flowers on her grave on her birthday. She would have been twenty-five. That’s how old I was when she died.” Fidelia wore beautiful dangling silver earrings that caught the light when she shook her head. “Hard to tink of you with a child dat old. You look tirty-five.” “You’re sweet, Fidelia.” “I’ve been called many tings, but never sweet.” She laughed, a deep, smoker’s laugh, her even teeth white against red lipstick. Caroline had never been able to guess her age—the glossy, undyed black hair said twenties; the leathery skin said sixty years in the sun. “Why don’t you get out, cheer yourself up?” “I was planning to go by Lucille Elder’s place.” “Buying or selling?” “Selling.” Elder’s Interiors was the most popular interior design studio in the city. “She commissioned six needlepoint pillows and eight crewel dining chair seat covers for Pamela Fitzgerald’s new house.” “I don’t know her.” “Her last name is really Burke now. She’s married to Larry Burke. His father owns Burke’s Construction Company.” Caroline frowned. “Maybe that’s part of what has me down today. Pamela was in Hayley’s kindergarten class, but I’d forgotten her until Lucy started talking about her lately. I keep thinking that if things had been different, maybe Hayley would be the one married to a rich young man and decorating a big, new house.” “You can’t second guess de fates.” “I’ve never believed in fate, Fidelia. Life’s always seemed a matter of chance to me.” She drained her cup. “Good heavens, now I’m waxing philosophical. It’s definitely time for me to get out for a while.” “Go for de day,” Fidelia said. “Enjoy yourself. I’ll make de house sparkle for you, and lock up when I leave.” Caroline went upstairs, took a shower, washed her hair, and, after blowing it dry, wound it on hot rollers. She wore it shoulder-length and softly curled, although lately she’d been wondering if she shouldn’t change to a more mature style, even though it was still a shiny chestnut, the gray limited to a few hairs she always quickly pulled out. She told herself she wore it long for David, but she knew he wasn’t particular. It was Chris who years ago had loved her thick, then-waist-length hair, Chris who had painted her naked, sitting on the bed drawing a silver-backed brush through a half-concealing veil of russet-tinged strands. She rubbed a window in the steam on the mirror. “Caroline, you are a melancholy soul today,” she said, grinning. “You should be wearing flowing white robes and carrying a candle.” Then the grin faded, and she peered closer. Fidelia was right—she didn’t look her forty-four years, which somehow made her feel shallow. After all she’d been through, why should her pale forehead be only finely lined, her eyes as clear green and steady as they had been twenty years ago? Melinda will look like me when she’s forty-four, she thought. Melinda is the image of me. Half an hour later, wearing brown wool slacks, a bright yellow sweater, and a tweed blazer, she loaded the pillows in her Thunderbird and waved good-bye to Fidelia, whose long, still gaze followed her out the driveway. Caroline rolled down her car window, drinking in the crisp air that tasted as crystal blue as the sky. The sun had turned the pale yellow of autumn, and the trees blazed gold and red. She passed the grade school and glanced over, zeroing in on the room where Melinda had third grade. Construction-paper leaf cutouts decorated the windows, and a jack-o’-lantern grinned at her. Which reminded her, Halloween was in two days. She would have to put the finishing touches on Melinda’s costume and be sure to stock enough candy for the hordes of children who drifted up and down their street until nine, when the city decreed all ghouls must return home. Caroline stopped for gasoline and oil, then headed for Elder’s Interiors. As usual she pulled around to the tiny private lot in back, where Lucy’s white Corvette and her assistant Tina Morgan’s Volkswagen huddled in the building’s shade. She angled the Thunderbird in beside a tree so she wouldn’t block the other cars. She could easily move if anyone needed to get out, but she doubted that young Tina would ask—the store seemed to be her life. Lucy said she arrived at 7:30 in the morning, brought a sack lunch, and usually left well after six in the evening. Caroline had seen for herself how devoted Tina was when Lucy redecorated the Webb home two months earlier. Tina always seemed to be around—measuring, making suggestions, insistently poring over wallpaper and paint samples with Ca...
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