Main Chill of Fear

Chill of Fear

0 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
Year:
2005
Edition:
First Edition first Printing
Publisher:
Bantam Books
Language:
english
ISBN 10:
0553803174
ISBN 13:
9780553803174
Series:
Fear 2
File:
EPUB, 274 KB
Download (epub, 274 KB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me

 

Most frequently terms

 
0 comments
 

To post a review, please sign in or sign up
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

Captain's Paradise

Year:
1988
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 162 KB
0 / 0
2

The Fall of Lucas Kendrick

Year:
1987
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 240 KB
0 / 0
Books by Kay Hooper





Books By Kay Hooper

Bishop Series

--Fear Trilogy



PROLOGUE

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18





Books By Kay Hooper


The Bishop Trilogies

1 Stealing Shadows 08-2000

2 Hiding in the Shadows 10-03-2000

3 Out of the Shadows 10-31-2000



1 Touching Evil 08-2001

2 Whisper of Evil 06-2002

3 Sense of Evil 06-2003 (paperback)



1 Hunting Fear 08-2004

2 Chill of Fear 07-2005

3 ??



The Quinn Novels

1 Once a Thief 10-2002

2 Always a Thief 06-2003

3 Lady Thief 03-2005



Romantic Suspense

Amanda 08-1996

After Caroline 09-1997

Finding Laura 07-1998

Hunting Rachel 09-1999



Classic Fantasy and Romance

On Wings of Magic 12-1994

The Wizard of Seattle 05-1993

My Guardian Angel (anthology) 01-1997

Yours to Keep (anthology) 10-1999





Bishop Series





--Fear Trilogy


----2 Chill of Fear (2005)--





CHILL OF FEAR

A Bantam Book / August 2005

Published by

Bantam Dell

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York, New York

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2005 by Kay Hooper

Bantam Books is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hooper, Kay

Chill of fear/Kay Hooper.

p. cm.

eISBN 0-553-90177-X

1. Government investigators—Fiction. 2. Psychics—Fiction. 3. Tennessee—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3558.O587 C48 2005b 2005045264

813/.54 22

www.bantamdell.com

v1.0





PROLOGUE


Leisure, Tennessee

Twenty-five years ago

The little girl huddled, shivering, in the back corner of the closet. She didn’t like the darkness, and shut her eyes tightly so she wouldn’t see it. She held her hands over her ears, pressing hard, to shut out the sound.

Tha–thum.

Tha–thum.

Tha–thum.

But she couldn’t close i; t out, no matter how hard she tried, and had the frightened notion that it was inside herself. Sometimes, if she put her hand over her chest, she could feel her heart beating, and thought it would sound like that.

Tha–thum.

But this sound was in her head, thrumming, beating like tiny wings as though something tried desperately to escape.

“Go away,” she whispered.

Tha–thum.

Look.

Tha–thum.

Listen.

She couldn’t read very well, it had always been difficult for her, but she could see these words as though they were etched in her mind in bright, flowing script. They were always like that, the weird, shiny letters spelling words she understood.

Hurry. Look.

She couldn’t not look. Had never been able to ignore or withstand those commands.

Hands still covering her ears, she reluctantly opened her eyes. The closet was dark, as she’d feared, but light seeped underneath the door. And even as she focused on that sliver of brightness, she felt the slow, heavy vibrations in the floor underneath her.

Hide.

“I am,” she whispered, trembling. Her gaze was fixed on that sliver of light, and the dread inside her was swelling, huge, filling her.

It’s coming.

Her breath caught on a silent sob as a bit of darkness crossed the sliver of light, and the vibrations beneath her ceased.

Then the bit of darkness swallowed the light, and she heard the closet door rattle.

Tha–thum!

Tha–thum!

Tha–thum!

Oh. No.

It’s here.

Five years ago

“You’re a hard man to find.”

Without taking his eyes from the papers spread out on the table before him, Quentin Hayes said, “But not impossible, obviously. Who was looking for me?”

“Noah Bishop.”

Quentin did look up then, his brows rising. “Of the Spooky Crimes Unit?”

Bishop smiled faintly. “I’ve heard the nickname.”

“Telepathically? That is supposed to be your psychic ability, right?”

“It is. But I didn’t need telepathy to pick up on the ridicule.” He shrugged. “We’ll probably always hear variations of that. But respect will come with success. Eventually.”

Quentin studied the other man, noting the curiously light gray eyes and scarred but striking face that spoke of strength and danger, and undoubtedly prevented all but the bravest souls from expressing open ridicule. That, plus his extraordinarily high success rate as a profiler, had earned Noah Bishop quite a lot of respect within the Bureau, even if this new unit of his was earning just as much mockery.

Still, Quentin had earned his own considerable reputation as a solid investigator who preferred to work alone, and wasn’t at all eager to join a team—or go public with abilities he had been at some pains to conceal.

“So why’re you telling me?” he asked.

“Thought you might be interested.”

“Oh, yeah? I can’t imagine why.”

“Of course you can.” Bishop came into the room and sat down on the other side of the table, still wearing that faint, amused smile. “You saw me coming. Months ago? Years ago?”

Refusing to reply to those dry questions, Quentin said, “I’m not on the clock, in case nobody told you that.”

“What I was told was that you’ve spent at least two previous vacations here in Tennessee. In this same small town. Probably sitting in this same seldom-used conference room of a police department that hasn’t had to deal with much except traffic tickets, domestic disputes, and the odd bootlegger or meth lab in the last twenty years or so. Here you sit, going over the same old dusty files while the local cops shrug and keep the betting pool going.”

“I hear the odds are tipping in my favor,” Quentin said.

“They admire sheer persistence.”

“Most cops do.”

Bishop nodded. “And most cops dislike mysteries and unsolved cases. So, is that why you’re here?”

“You mean you don’t know?”

The mockery didn’t appear to disturb Bishop in the least. Matter-of-factly, he said, “I’m not clairvoyant. Not a seer, like you. And I’m a touch-telepath, not an open one. Not that touching you would necessarily help me to read you; virtually every psychic I’ve known has developed a shield to guard themselves.”

“Then you just assume I’m psychic, is that it?” Quentin had to ask, even though Bishop’s specific reference to “seer” meant he was doing more than assuming.

“No. I know you’re psychic. The same way you know I am, because we tend to recognize each other. Not always, but most of the time.”

“So when do we exchange the secret handshake?”

“That would be just before I give you your decoder ring.”

It surprised a laugh out of Quentin; he hadn’t marked Bishop as a man with a sense of humor. “Sorry. But you have to admit, an FBI unit made up of psychics is pretty off the wall. Almost comic book.”

“It won’t be one day.”

“You really do believe that, don’t you?”

“Science is understanding more every day about the human brain. Sooner or later, psychic abilities will be correctly classified as just another set of senses, like sight or hearing, just as normal and just as human.”

“And you won’t be head of the Spooky Crimes Unit anymore?”

“Let’s just say that it’s only a matter of time before the doubts and disbelief are proven wrong. We only have to be successful.”

“Ah, gee, is that all?” Quentin shook his head. “The closed-case-to-open ratio in the FBI is running—what?—about forty percent right now?”

“The SCU will do considerably better than that.”

Quentin wasn’t sure what he would have replied to the other man’s optimism, but an interruption presented itself when a member of the Leisure Police Department appeared in the doorway.

“Quentin, I know you’re supposed to be on vacation,” Lieutenant Nathan McDaniel said with only a glance toward Bishop, “but I thought you might be interested in this—and the chief okayed telling you.”

“What’s up, Nate?”

“We just got a call. A little girl’s gone missing.”

Quentin was on his feet immediately. “At The Lodge?”

“At The Lodge.”



When the sprawling hotel had been built back around the turn of the twentieth century, it had been christened with some grand-sounding name, now long forgotten. For more years than anybody remembered, it had been called simply The Lodge, and somewhere along the way the owners had given up and accepted that name.

It had been a favored vacation spot of the rich and reclusive fairly consistently throughout its history, for both its grandeur and its isolation; far from any major city and reached only by a single winding, two-lane blacktop ascending miles from the small town of Leisure, it was about as far from civilization as one could get, especially in these modern days of instant or near-instant communication.

But for all its isolation, The Lodge had more than its fair share of amenities to tempt guests to make the journey to its doors. Its large main building and numerous cottages all boasted spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, and among its other attractions were miles of winding trails for hiking or horseback riding, beautiful gardens, a huge clubhouse holding both an Olympic-size swimming pool and indoor tennis courts, and a very nice eighteen-hole golf course.

Add to all that a highly trained and discreet staff ready to pander to a guest’s every whim, lovely rooms and cottages with luxurious beds and bedding that guests had been known to purchase after a visit, and first-rate spa facilities, and you had a hotel that had put Leisure, Tennessee, on the map. Or at least on the map of deluxe vacation spots.

“The only problem,” Quentin told Bishop as they got out of Quentin’s rental in the circular driveway in front of the main building, “is that the place has a nasty habit of losing people—and they’re almost always children.”

“I don’t imagine they include that in the brochures,” Bishop said.

“No.” Quentin shook his head. “To be fair, there isn’t really a pattern to the thing unless you have the sort of suspicious mind I have. And from what I’ve been able to piece together over the years, the dead and missing, though usually connected to the hotel in some way, are almost never guests. Kids of people who work here, or in the general area, mostly. Locals. And people in this part of the country don’t open up to outsiders, or want anyone meddling in their business.”

“Even when that business is missing children?”

“They’re the self-reliant sort, believe me. They get their dogs and their shotguns and go looking for themselves. In the old days, nobody even bothered to report any kind of problem to the police, and as far as I’ve been able to make out, it’s just as often true in recent years.”

“What sort of time frame are you talking about?”

“I’ve gone back twenty years, at least. And found half a dozen suspicious accidents or illnesses, as well as one unquestionable murder. Not statistically significant for a hotel with as many people passing through as The Lodge can claim, according to the books. But I’m not buying it. And—”

Bishop waited a moment, then prompted, “And?”

“And there have been at least five unsolved disappearances connected with this place, most but not all kids.”

It didn’t take psychic ability to know that Quentin had changed his mind about what he’d been about to say, but Bishop didn’t press him. He merely said, “I think if I were a parent, I’d hesitate to bring my child here.”

“Yeah. Me too.” Quentin was frowning as he watched Nate McDaniel and another of the local cops speaking to a clearly distraught man near the hotel’s front steps.

“And you keep coming back here to find out why this place seems to be . . . cursed?”

Quentin didn’t argue with the terminology. “As you said—most cops dislike mysteries.”

“Especially the ones that touch them personally.”

Quentin’s frown became a scowl, but he didn’t reply to that since McDaniel turned and moved toward them, indicating with a jerk of his head that they should join him.

“According to the girl’s father,” he told them, “she’s not the type to wander off. The mother was having a day at the spa, so he and his daughter were spending the day together. Horseback riding this morning, then a picnic lunch out in the rose garden. But the hamper The Lodge provided didn’t have the girl’s favorite drink, so he went in to get it. Says he wasn’t gone five minutes, though it was probably closer to ten. When he got back to their blanket on the grass, she was gone.”

McDaniel sighed. “Half the staff’s out looking for her, but they didn’t call us for at least an hour.”

Bishop said, “They’ve covered the grounds nearest the buildings, then?”

“So they tell me.” McDaniel eyed him. “I know why Quentin turns up here every so often, but what about you, Bishop? The chief said you were here to talk to Quentin, but might be willing to help us out with this.”

“I’m always willing to help search for a child,” Bishop said. “Did anybody see her after the father left her in the garden?”

“Nobody we’ve talked to so far. And there were other picnics going on in other parts of the garden; it’s a Lodge tradition, especially in summer, like now. But all the others were couples, and my guess is they were too wrapped up in each other to pay attention if a child wandered by.”

“What about if she was dragged or carried past?” Quentin demanded.

Bishop glanced at him. “People notice what’s out of the ordinary. If the child had been resisting or protesting, someone would have taken note. Assuming she was seen at all.”

McDaniel said, “And there’s no sign of a struggle of any kind, Quentin. We won’t find footprints in a garden that’s mostly grass and flagstone paths, though we are checking the planting beds. The only thing the girl left behind was the sweater she was wearing earlier. I’ve called in one of the local search-and-rescue canine teams; they should be here within the next half hour.”

“What’s her name, Nate?”

“Belinda. Her father says she’s never answered to a nickname. She’s eight.”

Quentin turned without another word and headed in the direction of the rose garden out behind the main building.

“There goes a man with demons riding him,” McDaniel said almost absently.

“What sort of demons, Lieutenant?”

“You’d have to ask him. All I know is what I’ve observed the last couple times he’s been here. And all that tells me is that he’s haunted by a crime nobody’s been able to solve in twenty years of trying. The difference is, Quentin just can’t let it go.”

Bishop nodded slightly, but all he said was, “We all have that one case, don’t we? The one that haunts us. The one we dream about at night.”

“Yeah. But there’s another difference for Quentin. The case that haunts him is right out of his nightmares. And his own childhood.”

“I know,” Bishop said.



It was, everyone agreed, creepy enough that a child had vanished right out of a bright rose garden on a sunny summer afternoon; what was even more chilling was when the search-and-rescue bloodhound, after sniffing Belinda’s little pink sweater, merely sat down and howled mournfully.

“Has he ever done that before?” Bishop asked the handler, who shook his head adamantly.

“Never. Cosmo knows his job, and he’s the best tracker I’ve ever had. I don’t understand it.” He bent to his dog, murmuring reassuringly to the trembling animal.

McDaniel shook his head as well, baffled, and told those of his people that had been standing by to continue searching without the aid of a dog. To Bishop, he said, “If you have any special expertise to offer, now would be the time.”

“Yes,” Quentin agreed, staring at Bishop challengingly. “Now would be the time.”

“I don’t know the terrain here as well as the rest of you,” Bishop said, “but I’ll do my best. Quentin, perhaps you could show me the layout of these gardens?”

“And I’ll go talk to the father again,” McDaniel said with a sigh.

Quentin watched the cop stride back toward the main building, then said to Bishop in a lowered voice, “Okay, so no dog-and-pony show for the locals. I get that. But whatever abilities I may have aren’t telling me a damned thing, and I’m hoping yours can be a lot more help in finding this little girl.”

“Telepathy won’t help,” Bishop said, his own voice low. “But there’s another little knack I have that might.”

“What is it?”

Without answering that specifically, Bishop said, “I need a high place, somewhere I can see as much of the surrounding area as possible.”

“The main building has an observation tower. Will that do?”

“Lead the way.”

The “tower” was little more than a cupola jutting up from the roof on one side of the Victorian-style building and housing a twenty-five-foot circular room whose shutters were left wide open in summer. Since The Lodge was centered in a sprawling valley, it was possible to see for miles from this vantage point.

Bishop was silent until they reached the top of the stairs and the tower, then said, “I’ve always believed animals are sensitive to things most people are oblivious to, things beyond even their own keenest senses.”

“Unfortunately, they can’t tell us what’s upset them. Or are you telepathic with animals as well as people?”

“People only, I’m afraid. And not much more than half of them. You know these extra senses of ours are as limited as the usual five.”

“I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about the subject, if you want the truth,” Quentin said, moving to the side of the tower that overlooked the garden area. “Not much science on it, at least that I could find, and I wasn’t very interested in most of the cockeyed theories masquerading as science.”

“Join the SCU, and I can guarantee you’ll learn everything science and experience can tell us about psychic abilities. Your own and others’.”

“I’m not what you’d call a team player.”

“That I can live with,” Bishop said, joining him and gazing out over the gardens. “I need a seer, Quentin, and they’re rare.”

“I don’t see anything. I just know things sometimes,” Quentin finally admitted. “Stupid, useless stuff, mostly. That the phone is about to ring. That it’s going to rain. That I’ll find the keys I lost in some unlikely spot.”

“But sometimes,” Bishop said, “you know where an important piece of evidence will be found. Or precisely which questions to ask of which suspects. Or which line of an investigation is going to be a dead end.”

“You’ve been reading my file,” Quentin said after a moment.

“Of course. You’re one of the few psychics I’ve been able to find already in law enforcement—and the only one already within the FBI.”

Quentin glanced at him, then shrugged. “I’ve never been able to use my ability as an investigative tool. It’s never been under my control in any sense.”

“We’ll teach you how to exert whatever control is possible. Teach you how to focus and channel your abilities. How to use them to aid an investigation.”

“Will you? Can you do it?”

Bishop smiled faintly at the direct challenge, but rather than answering looked out over the valley and put all his concentration into opening up and strengthening his “normal” five senses. It was like having a blurry image snap suddenly into focus, while in the background faint sounds became louder, clearer, and he could smell the roses far below.

He wasn’t about to admit to Quentin that the term coined for what he was doing was using his “spider sense,” not after the other man’s mocking reference to comic books.

“Bishop—”

“Wait.” He reached out farther, and heard bits of conversation from the searching officers and hotel employees, words and phrases, disjointed and unimportant. Beneath the scents of roses and other flowers and freshly mown grass, he caught the savory odors of cooking from the hotel’s kitchen, and someone’s tangy perfume or aftershave, and the warm, dusty scents of horses and hay and leather. The razor-sharpness of what he saw blurred as though a zoom lens sought distant objects and struggled to bring them into focus.

Bishop pushed harder, reached farther.

The colors washed into one another, the scents blended unpleasantly into a thick miasma that caused his stomach to churn, and the sounds and voices he heard were a cacophony pounding inside his head—

“—or we could check down by the creek—”

“—of course I wasn’t flirting with him—”

“—the guest in the Orchid Room needs—”

“—empty stables she might have—”

“—only a matter of time before we have to drag the streams and lake—”

“Daddy? Where are you? I’m afraid—”

It’s coming.

“Bishop!”

He looked down at Quentin’s hand on his arm, then at the other man’s face, his vision blurry for a heartbeat or two before it cleared. And he could hear only the distant sounds that were normally audible from this height. Smell only the distant, pleasant scents of a summer afternoon.

He didn’t have to ask to know that he had been too still and too silent for too long, and had to mentally shrug off the lingering chill he felt. He wondered if he had been able to tune in to his surroundings with such unusual strength because there was, as Quentin believed, something different about this place. The coldness Bishop had sensed was at least an indication that he might be right.

But there was little time to ponder that.

“Can you ride?” he asked, unsurprised by the slightly hoarse sound of his own voice.

Frowning, Quentin said, “Yeah, I can. What the hell did you just do?”

“I . . . tuned in to this place. Let’s go.”

Quentin followed, still frowning, and within ten minutes they were aboard two of the hotel’s horses and following one of the trails that wound up into the mountains. Bishop led the way, not saying much but intent, concentrating, as though listening to some inner voice that was guiding him.

Quentin wasn’t really surprised to see that Bishop rode well; he had a strong hunch that the other man was the sort who would master whatever he chose to no matter how much effort or time was involved.

Which, Quentin knew, undoubtedly included his psychic abilities.

But what had he done back in the tower? Whatever it was, it had been an actual, physical effort; his eyes had dilated so much that for an instant, gazing into them, Quentin had thought of ice rimming a deep, black pool. Unsettling, to say the least. And what had Bishop said—that he had tuned in to this place? What the hell was that supposed to mean?

He urged his horse up beside the other man’s despite the narrowness of the trail, and said, “Do you know where she is, or are we just out for a nice afternoon ride?”

“I know where she is,” Bishop replied calmly.

“How?”

“I heard her.”

Quentin digested that for a moment. “From the tower? You heard her way up there?”

“Yes.”

Quentin glanced back at the considerable distance they had already covered, then said almost involuntarily, “Bullshit.”

“The mind,” Bishop said, “is a remarkable tool. And so are the senses. The usual five, plus whatever extra ones we’re lucky enough to have.”

“Bishop, you’re out of your mind—and all your senses.”

“We’ll see.”

Quentin dropped back but continued to follow Bishop, telling himself that he was just humoring a lunatic. But the quiet voice in his own mind that had so often told him where to look or what to ask or what would happen next was telling him that little Belinda was going to be found, and that it would be because Bishop had, somehow, heard her.



“Belinda?”

“Go away,” she mumbled, blinking in the brightness of Quentin’s flashlight. She was squeezed back into a corner near the old rock fireplace, but seemed to do her best to make herself draw even farther away, to make herself smaller. “Don’t hurt me.” Her voice was thin and shaky, the plea ending in a hiccuping sob.

“It’s okay, Belinda, you’re safe now. We’re going to take you back to your parents.” Quentin tried to make his own voice soothing, but the child’s terror was palpable and he dared not reach out for her.

“Let me try,” Bishop said.

Quentin gave way willingly; there was very little space inside the ramshackle building that might once have been a house of sorts, and between them he and Bishop were probably looming over the sobbing child, he thought. She was obviously dazed and confused, though appeared unhurt barring a small cut on her forehead.

What Quentin couldn’t understand was how she had managed to get way up here, much farther from The Lodge than a child her age should have been able to travel in the time allowed. Under her own power, at least.

“It’s okay, Belinda,” Bishop said, softly repeating Quentin’s assurances. But he didn’t hesitate to reach out and gather the child into his arms.

To Quentin’s surprise, the little girl not only didn’t resist or protest, but actually visibly relaxed, and stopped crying. She even looked a little sleepy, as if exhaustion had caught up with her.

“Let’s get her out of here,” Bishop said.

Quentin radioed the other search teams that Belinda had been safely found, and Bishop handled her slight weight easily as he carried her before him on his horse back down the mountain.

As relieved as he was that the child had been safely found, and impressed though he was with the way Bishop had been able to do that, what interested Quentin the most was Belinda’s response to the other man. With those pale eyes and the angry scar down his left cheek, his didn’t seem a face that would inspire confidence in a terrified little girl, yet from the moment he had touched her, she had seemed perfectly trusting and content in his arms.

“You’re good with kids,” Quentin noted as they rode the last half mile back to The Lodge. “Any of your own?”

Bishop glanced down at the dark-haired girl nestled against him, and Quentin saw a flicker of pain, quickly gone.

“No,” Bishop replied, “none of my own.”

“I guess some people just have the knack. I never did. I like kids okay and all, but they don’t warm up to me quickly.”

“She’s been through a lot,” Bishop said.

Quentin didn’t bother to say that it wouldn’t have made much difference in how she reacted to him. Instead, he glanced at Belinda’s drowsy face and lowered his voice to say, “You heard her all the way up there; I assume you can hear her now. What happened to her?”

“She doesn’t remember.” Bishop’s voice was low as well.

“What, nothing?”

“Nothing after waking up this morning. She doesn’t remember the earlier ride with her father or the beginning of the picnic.” Bishop paused, then added, “Not so uncommon after a head injury.”

“No, but . . . how did she get that injury? And how the hell did she travel miles across a valley and up into the mountains in hardly more than a couple of hours?”

“I don’t know.”

“No hoofprints around that old shack, except for those our horses made. No tire tracks. Hell, no footprints that I saw—not even hers.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.”

Since they had nearly reached The Lodge, Quentin dropped the subject for the time being. But after Belinda had been safely returned to her overjoyed parents and all the questions and exclamations and thanks had been dealt with—with amazing discretion and creative evasiveness on Bishop’s part—he brought it up again.

The two men sat at a fairly isolated table in a shady section of one of the verandas with a couple of cold beers—compliments of The Lodge.

“You noticed there were no footprints up there. I think we both believe she couldn’t have gotten all that way on her own. So what do you think happened to Belinda?”

“I don’t know. Without evidence of any kind, there’s no way to know.”

“I’m not asking what you know. I’m asking what you think. What you feel. I saw your face when we got to that old shack up there, and it didn’t take a telepath to know you were picking up something you didn’t like.”

After a moment, Bishop said, “It was an old building, and like most old buildings it held a lot of . . . echoes. Unfortunately, there’s no way I know of to separate layers of time, to distinguish the psychic echo of something that happened a century ago from something that happened yesterday. Or today. Or twenty years ago.”

There was another pause as Quentin stared at him, and then he said quietly, “It didn’t happen up there. What happened twenty years ago.”

“I know.”

“You know a hell of a lot, don’t you.” It wasn’t really a question.

Bishop smiled. “You think I’d try to recruit a new team member without knowing everything I could about him first? There won’t be many secrets in the SCU, Quentin, that goes without saying. We’re a unit of psychics. And from the telepaths who can pick up thoughts to the empaths who can pick up pain, we’re going to eventually know pretty much everything there is to know about each other.”

“If that’s your recruitment speech, it’s likely to scare away more potentials than it entices,” Quentin muttered.

“Is it scaring you away?”

“Answer something for me first,” Quentin said. “What did you feel or sense at that shack?”

“The same thing I felt, for a split second, up in the observation tower. Something old, and dark, and cold. Something evil.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. Never felt anything like it before. But I can tell you that it’s been here a long time. That we frustrated it today by finding Belinda when we did. And I can tell you that it’s what touched your life twenty years ago.”

“How could you possibly know that?” Quentin demanded roughly.

“You grabbed my arm in the tower, remember? I felt it then. That whatever’s happening here is something you’re connected to. It’s why you keep coming back here, because you’re tied, bound, to this place, and not just by your memories. By something else as well. And you’ll come back again and again until you’ve found the answers you need.”

“You can’t offer those to me?”

Bishop shook his head. “No. And you won’t find them this trip, I’m sure of that. It isn’t yet time.”

“You said you weren’t a seer.”

“I’m not. But one thing I’ve learned is that there’s a kind of rhythm to most things. To the universe. A sequence of events, a pattern, a proper order. I feel that sometimes. And what I’m feeling here is that the time isn’t right, that the darkness here will stay hidden a while longer.”

With a stab at humor, Quentin said, “You’re just saying that so I’ll leave and join your unit.”

“No. If I could help you settle with your past here and now, I would, believe me.” Bishop’s mouth twisted slightly. “I know what it is to spend too much time looking back instead of ahead. But that hasn’t crippled me, and it won’t cripple you.”

“You sound very sure of that.”

“I am sure. Just as I’m sure of what I said to you a few hours ago. You did see me coming, didn’t you, Quentin? You knew I’d ask you to join the SCU.”

Quentin laughed ruefully. “Oh, hell, I saw you coming years ago.”

“It’s why you joined the FBI.”

“Yeah. I had a law degree I didn’t know what to do with, and was actually thinking of becoming some kind of cop. And then one day I . . . knew the SCU was something that would happen. I knew I’d be part of it.”

Dryly, Bishop said, “And still made me come to you.”

“Well, a man wants to be valued.”

“I think,” Bishop said, “you undoubtedly earned your reputation for reckless independence.”

“I think you’re right. I also think we’ve wandered a bit from the subject. I’m not willing to give up here, Bishop.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to. I’m just asking you to look ahead rather than back. For a while. Your past will always be there, trust me on that.”

“The girl in my past died,” Quentin heard himself say.

“I know. And the girl—the woman in my past is out of my reach almost as surely as if she were dead. At least until the universe is ready to pick that thread back up again.”

“And weave it back into the pattern?” Quentin shook his head. “What if it’s a lost thread?”

“It isn’t. She isn’t. And neither is your Missy, Quentin.”

It was the first time anybody had said that name to him in a long time, but Quentin felt himself flinch inside. “She’s dead. All I can do for her now is find out why she died.”

“I’ll help all I can. You have my word on that.”

“But not until the time is right?”

“Some things have to happen just the way they happen.”

Quentin looked at him curiously. “Your mantra?”

“Something like that. Believing it keeps me sane.”

“Then maybe you can convince me. In the meantime . . . what the hell. It seems we both knew this was inevitable.” He held out his hand to the other man. “You’ve got yourself a seer, Bishop.”

And as they shook hands, he almost told Bishop about the little voice in his head that was whispering, He’ll find Miranda. But not yet. Not just yet.

Then he saw the flicker in Bishop’s pale eyes, and realized that the telepath had read him and his little voice. But he hadn’t needed a seer to tell him what he was utterly convinced of. He would find his Miranda. Sooner or later.

Quentin wondered if he would be so lucky with the end of his own troubled quest.





1


Present day

Nightmares again?”

Diana Brisco slipped her cold hands into the front pockets of her smock and frowned at him. “What makes you ask?”

“That.” He nodded at the canvas on its easel in front of her, a canvas with a dark background and bright, harsh slashes of color in the foreground.

She joined him in staring at the canvas, and finally shrugged. “No, no nightmares.” For once, at least. “Just in a mood, I guess.”

“A dark mood.”

“You told us to paint what we felt,” she said defensively. “I did that.”

He smiled, the expression lending his already angelic features such beauty that she unconsciously caught her breath.

“Yes, you did. And quite powerfully. I’m not worried about your work, Diana. It’s superb, as usual. I’m concerned about you.”

She mentally shook off the almost mesmerizing effect of his physical presence and ignored what she suspected was a pat-the-pupil-on-the-head compliment, saying, “I’m fine. I didn’t sleep well, but not because of nightmares. Just because . . .” She shrugged again, unwilling to admit that she had been up half the night staring through her bedroom window, out over the dark valley. She had spent far too many nights that way since arriving in Leisure.

Looking for . . . something. God only knew what, because she certainly didn’t.

Gently, but also matter-of-factly, he said, “Even if this workshop was designed for self-expression rather than therapy, I’d be offering the same advice, Diana. Once we’re done here, get out of The Lodge for a while. Go for a walk, or a ride, or a swim. Sit out in one of the gardens with a book.”

“In other words, stop thinking about myself so much.”

“Stop thinking. For a while.”

“Okay. Sure. Thanks.” Diana knew she sounded brusque and wanted to apologize for it. He was only doing what he was supposed to do, after all, and probably had no idea that she’d heard it all before. But before she could form the words, he merely smiled and moved on to the next of his dozen or so “students” here in the bright, open space of the hotel’s conservatory.

Diana kept her hands in the pockets of the paint-stained smock and frowned at her painting. Superb, huh? Yeah, right. To her eye, it looked more like the finger painting of a highly untalented six-year-old.

But, of course, quality was hardly the point. Talent was hardly the point.

Figuring out what was going on in her screwed-up mind was the point.

She took her gaze off the painting and watched as Beau Rafferty moved among his students. An artist of his caliber teaching this sort of workshop had struck her as extremely odd at first, but after a week of classes she had come to realize that he had a genuine gift not only for teaching, but also for reaching and helping troubled people.

Other people, at least. She could already see changes in most of the others participating in this workshop. Strained faces had begun to relax, smiles had appeared to replace frowns or haunted anxiety. She had even seen a few of them out enjoying some of the activities The Lodge had to offer.

But not Diana. Oh, no. Diana was still having nightmares when she could sleep at all, she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt relaxed, and none of the myriad sports or recreational facilities here held the least appeal for her. And despite Rafferty’s undoubted genius and ability to teach, she didn’t believe that her rudimentary artistic skills had improved either.

In fact, this whole thing was probably just one more waste of her time and her father’s money.

Diana looked back at her painting and hesitated for a moment before picking up her brush and adding one small streak of scarlet near the lower left corner. That finished it, she decided. She had no idea what it was or what it was supposed to represent to her, but it was finished.

She began cleaning her brushes automatically, trying to concentrate on the task and not think.

But, of course, that was part of her problem, the short attention span, these scattered, random thoughts and ideas flitting constantly through her mind, usually so fast they left her confused and disoriented at least half the time. Like bits and pieces of overheard conversations, the words and phrases came and went almost continually.

No focus, that’s what the doctors said. They were sure she didn’t have attention deficit disorder, despite having been medicated for that at least twice in her life; no, all the doctors and all the tests had determined that despite “somewhat elevated” levels of electrical activity, her problem wasn’t physical or chemical, wasn’t something in her brain—but something in her mind.

So far, none of them had been able to suggest a successful way of figuring out what that something was. And just about every conceivable means had been tried. The traditional couch and shrink. Hypnosis. Conscious regression, since no one had been able to hypnotize her to attempt the unconscious variety. Group therapy. Massage therapy. Various other kinds of therapy, both traditional and New Age. Including, now, painting, under the tutelage of an honest-to-God artistic genius, in yet another attempt to tap in to her inner Diana and ask what the hell was wrong with her.

One of her current doctors had suggested she try this, and Diana could only wonder if he was getting kickbacks for every referral.

Her father had spared no expense in trying to help his troubled only child, openly afraid that she might, as so many others had done, escape into alcohol or drugs or, worse, give up and commit suicide.

But Diana had never been tempted by the chemical forgetfulness that could be found in “recreational” drugs. In fact, she disliked losing control, a trait that only exacerbated her problem; the harder she tried to concentrate and focus, the more scattered her thoughts became. And the failure to control them, of course, depressed and disturbed her further, though never to the point of contemplating suicide.

Diana was no quitter. Which was why she was here, trying yet another form of therapy.

“I’ll see you all back here tomorrow,” Rafferty told his class, smiling, not offering a collective “Good work” because he had instead offered that individually.

Diana removed her smock and hung it on the hook at the side of the easel, and prepared to follow the others out of the conservatory.

“Diana?”

She waited, a little surprised, as Rafferty approached her.

“Take this.” He held out a sketchpad and small box of watercolor pencils.

She accepted them, but with a frown. “Why? Is this some kind of exercise?”

“It’s a suggestion. Keep the pad close by, and when you start to feel upset or anxious or restless, try drawing. Don’t think about it, don’t try to control what you draw, just draw.”

“But—”

“Just let go and draw.”

“This is like the inkblots, right? You’re going to look at my sketches and interpret them, go all Freudian and figure out what’s wrong with me?”

“I won’t even see them, unless you want to show them to me. No, Diana, the sketches are just for you. They may help . . . clarify things for you.”

She wondered, not for the first time, just how much he really knew about her and her demons, but didn’t ask. Instead, she merely nodded. It was something she hadn’t tried, so why not? “Okay, fine. See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow, Diana.”

She left the conservatory, going out into the gardens more because she didn’t want to return to her cottage than because the gardens were an enjoyment for her. They were pretty, she supposed. Gorgeous, really, from the various themed gardens already in bloom in mid-April to the striking greenhouse that held an amazing variety of orchids.

But Diana walked through most of the charming scenery indifferently. She followed a flagstone path because it was there, crossing the arched footbridge over the man-enhanced stream holding numerous colorful koi and ending up in the supposedly serene ZenGarden, with its manicured shrubs and trees and carefully placed rocks and sand and statuary.

She sat down on a stone bench beside a weeping willow tree, telling herself she wouldn’t remain long because the afternoon was waning and it got chilly this time of year as the sun dipped below the mountains. And then there was the fog, which had an unsettling tendency to creep across this valley and settle over The Lodge and its gardens so that finding one’s way along the paths resembled a trip through a damp and chilly maze.

Diana definitely wasn’t in the mood for that. But she nevertheless sat there longer than she had planned, finally opening the box of watercolor pencils and absently selecting one. They were already sharpened.

She opened the sketchpad and tried the pencil out just as absently, making yet another attempt to ignore the jumbled thoughts crowding her mind and concentrate on only one. Why she was having so much trouble sleeping here. It had been an issue now and then in her life, but not recently, not until she had come to The Lodge.

Nightmares had always been a problem for her, though still not regular occurrences, but since coming to The Lodge they had gotten worse. More intense, more . . . terrifying. She’d wake in the dark hours before dawn, gasping in panic yet unable to remember what it was that had so frightened her.

It was less traumatic to stay awake. Just curl up in the window seat in her bedroom, an afghan protecting her against the chill of the glass, and stare out at the valley and the dark mountains that loomed above.

Looking for . . . something. Nothing.

Waiting.

Diana came back to herself with a little start, suddenly aware of her aching fingers. She was holding one of the pencils, and most of the others lay beside her on the bench, out of their box, their once-sharpened ends dulled now. She had the sense that time had passed, and didn’t want to look at her watch to see just how much.

That was all she needed—the return of something that hadn’t happened to her in months. Blackouts.

Warily, she turned her gaze to the sketchpad on her knees. And saw, to her astonishment, the face she had drawn.

Slightly shaggy hair a color between gold and brown surrounded a lean face with high cheekbones and vivid blue eyes. There was a jut of determination to his jaw, and humor played around the faintly smiling mouth.

He seemed to be looking right back at Diana, those keen eyes curiously . . . knowing.

Artistically, it was better work than she knew herself capable of, which gave her the creeped-out feeling that someone else had drawn this. And lending weight to that was her certain knowledge that she had never seen this man before in her life.

“Jesus,” she murmured. “Maybe I really am crazy, after all.”



“I keep trying to tell you, Quentin, there’s been nothing new.” Nate McDaniel shook his head. “Matter of fact, since that time a few years back when you and—what was his name? Bishop?—helped find that missing girl out at The Lodge, we haven’t had any unsolved disappearances or accidents anywhere in the area, let alone murders. It’s been downright peaceful around here.”

“Don’t sound so disappointed,” Quentin advised dryly. “Peaceful is a good thing.” But his long fingers drummed restlessly on the edge of the desk, a gesture McDaniel took due note of. Not the most patient of men, was Quentin—which made it all the more interesting that he kept returning here in patient pursuit of answers.

McDaniel sighed. “Look, we both know that cold cases rarely get hot just because somebody sifts through all the paperwork one more time. And God knows you’ve sifted through it all enough times to be sure of that. The truth is, unless some new fact or bit of information comes to light, chances are that case stays cold. And after twenty-five years, what’s likely to turn up now?”

“I don’t know. But something has to.”

Not without sympathy, McDaniel said, “Maybe it’s time to let it go, Quentin.”

“No. No, I’m not ready to do that.”

“But you are ready to waste another vacation sitting in the conference room with dusty files and crime-scene photographs, and drinking lousy coffee for hours on end.”

Quentin frowned. “As you say, that’s hardly gotten me anywhere in years of trying.”

“So try something else,” McDaniel suggested. “I know you always stay here in town; why not get a room or cottage out at The Lodge this time?” He watched the play of emotions across the other man’s expressive face, and added quietly, “I can guess why you’ve avoided that, but maybe it’s time you hunted those ghosts where they’re more likely to be.”

“I hope you don’t mean ghosts literally,” Quentin muttered.

McDaniel hesitated, then said, “You’d know more about that than I would.”

Quentin looked at him, brows raised.

“Oh, come on, Quentin. The SCU’s been gaining quite a reputation in law enforcement circles, you know that. I’m not saying I buy everything I’ve heard, but it’s clear you guys deal with stuff that’s more than a little bit out of the ordinary. Hell, I always wondered how you and Bishop found that little girl, as if you went straight to her. I’ve followed a few hunches myself over the years, but they were never as accurate as yours clearly were that day.”

“We got lucky.”

“You had a damned sight more than luck on your side that day, and don’t try to deny it.”

“Maybe,” Quentin admitted finally. “But whatever we had, whatever I have, it doesn’t open a window into the past. And I’m no medium.”

“That’s somebody who talks to the dead, right?” McDaniel strove to keep the disbelief out of his voice but, judging by the other man’s wry smile, failed.

“Yeah, a medium communicates with the dead. But, like I said, I’m not a medium.”

Then what are you? But McDaniel stopped short of asking that question, uncomfortably aware of how it would sound. Instead, he said, “Maybe there aren’t any ghosts at all out at The Lodge. I mean, there’s been talk over the years that the place is haunted, but what old building doesn’t have those sorts of stories around it? Anyway, what happened, happened out there.”

“Twenty-five years ago. How many times has the place been remodeled or redecorated since then? How many people have come and gone? Christ, there aren’t more than a handful of employees who were there, and I’ve talked to them all.”

Responding to the last statement, McDaniel said thoughtfully, “Funny you should mention that. I’d forgotten, but as it turns out, there is a new employee there now who was also there twenty-five years ago. They just rehired him a few months back. Cullen Ruppe. He manages the stables, the same job he had back then.”

Quentin felt his pulse quicken, even as he heard himself say, “I don’t remember him. But then, there’s a lot I don’t remember about that summer.”

“Not all that surprising. You were—what?—ten?”

“Twelve.”

“Still. Maybe Ruppe can help fill in the blanks.”

“Maybe.” Quentin got to his feet, then paused. “If I do want to come back and sit in that conference room again—”

“You’re welcome to, you know that. But unless you do find something new out there . . .”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks, Nate.”

“Good luck.”

Quentin hadn’t yet checked into his usual motel in Leisure, and when he left the police station he barely hesitated before driving his rental car the fifteen miles or so along that lonely blacktop road out to The Lodge. It was a route he knew well, yet the journey never failed to rouse in him a vaguely uneasy sense of leaving civilization behind as the winding road climbed up into the mountains and then descended into the valley that housed The Lodge and nothing else.

Though it catered to guests year-round and actually provided fair skiing for at least a couple of months in winter, the busiest time of the year for The Lodge was from early April through October.

So Quentin knew he was lucky when the front desk clerk found a room for him despite his lack of reservations. He even wondered if it was fate.

Malevolent fate.

“We have the Rhododendron Room available for the next two weeks, sir. It’s in the North Wing.”

In the middle of filling out the registration card, Quentin paused and looked across the desk at her. “The North Wing. Didn’t that burn down, years ago?”

“Why, I believe it did, sir, but that must have been at least twenty or thirty years ago.” She was new, or at least no one Quentin had talked to on his previous visits, and seemed to be not the least bit fazed by the fact that there had once been a fire here.

“I see,” he said. He hadn’t bargained on staying in the North Wing. Hadn’t even thought about it, in fact.

“The Lodge is over a hundred years old, sir, as I’m sure you know, so having a fire here at least once in all those years isn’t all that surprising. I was told it started accidentally, but not due to faulty wiring or anything like that. And it was rebuilt, of course, even nicer than before.”

“I’m sure it was.” He knew it had been. He had been in that part of the building many times. But he had never stayed there, never spent the night there, not since it had been rebuilt.

For the first time, Quentin had to ask himself if he did believe in ghosts. It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

The desk clerk hesitated for a moment, studying his face. “I don’t believe we have another room available for the full two weeks, sir, but if you’re willing to change rooms partway through your stay here, I’m sure I can—”

“No, I’d prefer to stay put, I think. The Rhododendron Room will be fine, thank you.”

Ten minutes later, he was settling into what was actually a very nice, beautifully decorated suite with a small sitting room adjacent to the spacious bedroom and bathroom, when he found a card cheerfully explaining the “historic” meaning of the rhododendron flower “according to some sources.”

He felt again the consciousness of malevolent fate taking a hand when he saw what the meaning was.

Beware.

“Well,” he murmured aloud. “No one can say I haven’t been warned.”



Nate McDaniel waited until nearly the end of the day before he placed the call, not because of reluctance but simply because things got busy. So it was after five before he dug into the clutter on his desk to find the scrap of paper with the cell phone number scrawled on it.

He wasn’t really surprised, though, when the call was answered immediately; few cops worked nine to five.

“Hello, Captain.”

Nate knew it was Caller I.D. rather than psychic ability, but it still caught him slightly off guard, and it was that which made his tone a bit aggressive.

“Okay, you called in the favor and I paid. I suggested that Quentin might want to stay at The Lodge this time, and I’m pretty sure he went out there.”

“I appreciate your help, Captain.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not all that happy about it, so don’t thank me. He might find something he’s not looking for out there, and if it’s trouble, I’m going to feel like shit. Plus, you know, I kinda like the guy.”

“Just remember it was my idea.”

Nate’s unconscious frown deepened. “You know something. What is it?”

“All I know is that it’s time Quentin settled with his past.”

Nate wasn’t about to call an FBI agent a liar, so all he said was, “And you get to decide stuff like that, huh?”

“No. I wish I did, but no.”

“Well, I just hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Yes,” Bishop said. “So do I.”



Diana.

Opening her eyes with a start, Diana looked around her bedroom warily. It was dark, but not so dark that she couldn’t see every corner. Nobody there, of course. Just her wayward mind not quite hearing voices.

She refused to hear voices.

Because that would make her delusional or psychotic, she knew that. So she wasn’t hearing voices. Just her own random thoughts and fragments of thoughts, and so what if those fragments occasionally held her name?

The birds had begun to sing outside and darkness was shading into a slightly misty, gray dawn, which told her that she had indeed slept for at least an hour or two. Curled up in the window seat, wrapped in a soft chenille afghan.

She stirred and moved stiffly off the window seat, getting to her feet and beginning to unwrap herself. Stupid way for a grown woman to spend the night when there was a perfectly comfortable bed nearby; the housekeeping staff probably thought she was out of her mind—

Diana.

And maybe she was.

Diana went still, waiting. Listening.

Look.

For the first time, Diana was certain that the voice—this particular voice, at any rate—was outside herself. Like a whisper in her ear. On her left side, closest to the window.

Slowly, Diana turned her head.

The center pane of the window looked fogged or frosted, as though someone had breathed warmly on it. None of the other panes, just the center one. And on that pane, very clearly as if a firm finger had traced them, were two words.



HELP US



Diana caught her breath, staring at the words, the plea. A wave of coldness swept over her. But she found herself reaching out, very slowly, until she could touch the glass. That was when she realized that the words had been traced on the outside of the glass.

She jerked her hand away and quickly moved to the nightstand beside the bed and the lamp there. She turned it on, blinking in the light, and looked back at the window.

Gray, featureless panes of glass. No fog or frost.

No desperate plea.

“Of course,” Diana murmured after a long moment. “Because I’m obviously out of my mind.”

She managed to at least partially shake off the cold uneasiness she felt, telling herself it had probably been her imagination anyway. Just . . . a leftover wisp of whatever she’d been dreaming.

Probably.

She turned on a few more lamps in the cottage, checked the doors to make sure they were all locked, and then went and took a long, hot shower.

She actually wished she could believe there had been someone outside her window. Because if someone had been out there, then at least that would have been a flesh-and-blood thing. A real thing. Whether an attempt to frighten her, a stupid joke, or an actual plea for her help, it would have been real.

Not all in her head.

It was daylight, the sun rising above the mountains and rapidly burning off the mist, by the time Diana was dressed, but it was still early. It was her habit to either make coffee in her cottage’s tiny kitchenette or else order room service, but on this morning she really didn’t want to spend any more time alone.

She picked up the sketchpad and pencils that Beau Rafferty had given her and slipped them into an oversized tote bag and dropped her billfold and keycard in there as well, hoping she wouldn’t have to have the latter rekeyed again. She’d already had to do that half a dozen times in the two weeks she’d been here, to the bafflement of the hotel staff.

She left the cottage, a bit relieved, as she moved toward the main building, to find the fog all but gone and others stirring even this early. Groundskeepers were working in the gardens, the heated outdoor pool Diana passed already boasted a couple of morning swimmers doing serious laps, and she could dimly hear the sounds of activity down at the stables.

At least three of the tables on the veranda overlooking the gardens were occupied by yawning guests with coffee and the morning newspaper. Diana had intended to find a table there and have breakfast, but instead found herself crossing the veranda and going into the main building.

The observation tower.

That was where she was headed, though she only consciously realized it when she began climbing the stairs. Part of her wanted to turn around and go back, if only to get some caffeine into her system, but she couldn’t seem to make herself do that.

Which was more than a little unsettling.

“Dammit,” she muttered as she neared the top. “I don’t need to sightsee, I need some coffee.”

“Help yourself.”

Diana held on to the railing at the top of the stairs and looked at the man who had spoken, conscious of shock—but surely not as much as she should have felt—to see him there. To see him.

He was standing, leaning a shoulder against the casing of one of the unshuttered windows that encircled the room, a coffee cup in one hand. Despite the early hour he looked wide-awake, and was casual in jeans and a dark sweatshirt.

“The waiter brought up two cups,” he continued, “so maybe he knew something I didn’t. Then again, maybe it was just a screwup with room service. In any case, you’re welcome to join me. There’s plenty.” He gestured toward a nearby small table, on which sat a silver tray with a coffeepot, cream jug and sugar bowl, the second cup and saucer, and a plate holding assorted pastries.

“I—you obviously wanted to be alone up here,” she managed to say finally.

“Want didn’t have much to do with it,” he said. “Most of the early birds are up for a reason. Golf, swimming, the morning ritual of coffee and newspaper. I’m just up because I couldn’t sleep. And up here because I might as well be looking at nice scenery if I have to be awake at the crack of dawn. How about you?”

Diana hesitated for another moment, then went to the small table and poured coffee into the second cup, vaguely surprised to find her hands steady. “I couldn’t sleep either. Think maybe the place is haunted?”

She had meant it as a lame joke, but when he didn’t respond right away, looked up quickly to catch a fleeting expression she instinctively identified as pain or loss. He does think the place is haunted. And the ghosts are his.

“I think a sleepless night could make me believe in almost anything,” he said lightly, smiling. “But then the sun comes up, the world looks and feels the way it should, and I’m not quite so willing to believe. My name’s Quentin Hayes, by the way.”

“I’m—Diana Brisco.”

“Nice to meet you, Diana Brisco.”

He stepped toward her, free hand outstretched, and Diana hesitated only an instant before shaking hands with the man whose face she had sketched yesterday.

Before ever setting eyes on him.





2


Madison Sims was what her mother termed “an imaginative child,” a definition Madison herself understood perfectly. It meant that her mother and other grownups didn’t believe her when she told them that her so-called imaginary friends were actually real—if not flesh and blood.

Madison was a very bright eight-year-old and had caught on quickly to the fact that saying things like that made people uncomfortable. And her uncomfortable, since it led to conversations between her parents in hushed voices, and visits to doctors, and wary looks from other grownups.

So she had stopped talking about her friends, and when her mother oh-so-casually asked about them, had lied without a blink. Did she still see children dressed as if they had stepped out of an old movie, children who seemingly walked through walls and whose laughter and voices only she could hear?

Nope. Nuh-uh. Not Madison.

Mama wouldn’t be mad at her if she told the truth, she knew that, didn’t she?

She knew it. But Madison had discovered even in her young life that there was truth . . . and then there was truth. And she had learned that some truths were better kept to herself.

Besides, she didn’t always see the other children. Never at home, in their almost-new house near the ocean. And seldom at the homes of other family or her “real” friends. Just, mostly, at places like The Lodge, old places.

She liked The Lodge, even though there was a sad feeling to some of the rooms and parts of the grounds. She loved the gardens, where, she had discovered the previous day, it was possible to walk for hours with her little Yorkie, Angelo, and not be scolded by the gardeners for trampling the flowers.

Where the other children liked to play.

It was still very early when she was allowed to excuse herself from the breakfast table and left her parents to finish their meal on the veranda while she and Angelo went off to explore the gardens they hadn’t got to the previous day.

“Don’t go outside the fence, Madison,” her mother warned.

“I won’t, Mama. Come on, Angelo.”

The Lodge provided a little postcard map of the gardens, and Madison consulted that as she and her attentive companion paused just out of sight of the veranda. Rose Garden, she’d seen that yesterday after they’d arrived here. And the greenhouse. She’d also seen the Rock Garden the previous day. But she hadn’t seen the ZenGarden, and that certainly sounded like something worth seeing.

She glanced back toward The Lodge, her gaze traveling up to the observation tower she had also seen the day before. Her eyesight was very good, and she could make out a man and woman standing up there, looking down at her.

“This way, Madison.”

She looked back toward the gardens to see a smiling little girl beckoning. Feeling suddenly happy, Madison waved gaily to the couple up in the tower and then followed this new friend toward the path leading off into the ZenGarden.



“Is she yours?” Diana asked as the little girl waved up at them and then raced off with her dog toward one of the garden paths.

“No, I’ve never seen her before.” Quentin frowned slightly, adding, “Haven’t seen any other kids here, in fact, since I got here yesterday. I hope someone’s keeping an eye on her. This isn’t the safest place for children.”

“Isn’t it? Why?”

He returned his attention to Diana and smiled, neither of which was difficult. “Oh . . . streams and ponds, horses, snakes from the mountains. That sort of thing.”

It was her turn to frown just a little, those very green eyes of hers direct and thoughtful. “I get the feeling that’s not really what you meant, though.”

Quentin was hardly in the habit of confiding in strangers, so he was surprised by his impulse to confide in this one. He was unusually drawn to her. There was something about Diana Brisco, something in those green eyes or the vulnerable curve of her mouth.

She was striking rather than pretty, with the coppery hair and very fair skin of a true redhead, paired with those unusual green eyes. Her features otherwise were ordinary, though her face held the sharpened look of someone under stress of some kind. And though the fashion magazines would have called her slender, Quentin thought she was too thin by a good ten or fifteen pounds.

She wasn’t his type at all, yet from the instant he had heard her voice and turned his head to see her come into the tower, he had been conscious of the strangest feeling. It was why he had offered to shake hands with her, though that was far more a business or professional gesture than one between strangers meeting casually at a resort.

He had needed to touch her, almost as if something inside him sought reassurance that she was real, that she was here. Finally, she was here.

Peculiar, to say the least.

And now, standing no more than a couple of feet away from her, he was highly conscious of the warm scents of soap and some kind of herbal shampoo. Aware of the gold flecks in her green eyes, and even of her quiet breathing. Hell, he could almost hear her heart beating.

He told himself to turn off the spider sense, but of course that was impossible: whenever he was focused or concentrating, that “extra” sense kicked in, and all his other senses became almost painfully heightened. That was, of course, all it was. He just didn’t know why he was so focused on her, so intent.

“I guess it’s none of my business,” she murmured.

The silence had definitely gone on too long.

“I don’t know that it’s my business,” he told her ruefully. “But I tend to visit The Lodge once every year or so, and over time I’ve . . . become interested in its history. It’s an old place, so there’s plenty of history and quite a few tragedies, some of them involving children.”

Diana glanced back out and down toward where the little girl had disappeared, then returned her gaze to Quentin. “I see. I didn’t know that. But then, this is my first visit here. I haven’t had a chance to look into the history of the place.”

“I’m here on vacation,” he said, not even completely sure why he wanted to steer the conversation away from The Lodge’s potential danger to children when he had, after all, brought up the subject himself. “How about you?”

She took a sip of her coffee, her hesitation almost imperceptible. Almost.

“I’m attending a workshop here for the next few weeks. A rather famous artist is teaching it. Painting.”

“So you’re an artist?”

“Actually, no. It’s more of a . . . therapeutic workshop.” She paused again, and added in a slightly flattened, let’s-get-this-over-with tone, “My doctor recommended it.”

Accustomed to reading between the lines as well as weighing people, Quentin decided that the doctor was undoubtedly a psychiatrist or psychologist. But, possibly unlike other people Diana had encountered before, Quentin had absolutely no bias against or discomfort with mental or emotional issues or the people who treated them. In fact, he understood far better than most just how fragile and troubled the human mind could be.

Especially a psychic’s mind.

And most especially one who might not know that’s what she was.

He was intrigued and more than a little cautious, not quite sure how he should handle a situation he’d never before encountered. At the same time, he was conscious of something he’d felt once or twice before in his life, a certainty of being in the right place at the right time, and that compelled him to follow his instincts.

Rather than just politely accept what she said or shy away from the subject uppermost in her mind, Quentin confronted it directly.

Matter-of-factly, he said, “Our company shrink insists we take vacation time every year whether we want to or not. Plus, of course, we get the inkblots and regular appointments to sit down and talk about anything that might be bothering us.”

“I guess mental and emotional health are issues a lot of companies are more aware of these days,” she said after a moment.

“Especially some companies,” he agreed. “In my case, it’s definitely the wear and tear and just general stress of the job. I’m with the FBI.”

“I never would have guessed. I mean—”

He chuckled. “I know I don’t look the part, according to what’s portrayed on TV and in the movies, but such is fate. The unit I belong to is a little less formal than the traditional FBI mold. Even on the clock, we seldom wear suits and ties. But we’re still cops, and the cases we investigate tend to be the worst of the lot. Which is why doctors and various forms of therapy are used to help us to work more effectively.”

Diana looked down at her coffee cup and, rather abruptly, said, “So it does help you? Therapy?”

“I hope so. None of us has had to take medical leave for emotional or psychological reasons despite several years of dealing with some pretty rough cases involving murderers, rapists, and kidnappers. So something must be working.”

Her mouth twisted, and she murmured, seemingly to herself more than to him, “And I can’t even deal with everyday life.”

“You seem to be dealing just fine,” he told her.

“Oh, I can concentrate pretty well for twenty minutes or half an hour at a stretch. Hold a conversation that actually makes sense. Usually. But then . . .”

“Then, what? What happens, Diana?”

She wavered visibly, then shook her head with a polite, strangers-on-an-elevator smile. “Never mind. You’re on vacation and I’m here for one more round of self-examination. Maybe this one will do the trick. Thanks for sharing your coffee, though. It was nice meeting you, Quentin.”

He wanted to stop her as she turned to set her coffee cup back on the tray, but something told him it would be better to let her go. For now.

“Nice meeting you, Diana. See you around.”

“Sure.” Her tone was still polite, like the distant smile she wore as she left the observation tower.

Quentin looked after her for a long time, then turned his gaze to the morning view.

Bishop had told him once that during the early days of locating and recruiting psychics for the unit, he had found a number of psychically gifted but emotionally fragile people who could never have withstood the demands of police work. Some had barely coped with their abilities just living day to day, while others . . .

Others, Bishop said, had been convinced somewhere in their lives, by doctors or their own seemingly bizarre experiences, that they were mentally ill.

Because, obviously, there was no other explanation for the voices they heard in their heads, or the strangely vivid dreams they experienced, or the blackouts or headaches that plagued them. No other reason to explain why they weren’t “normal” like everybody else.

Conventional medicine was fairly universal in treating such “symptoms” with medication and various other therapies, none of which involved convincing the patient that he or she was, in fact, perfectly normal, and simply possessed an extra sense or two that most other people didn’t share.

So they ended up thinking they were crazy, and since their “problem” was an organic thing perfectly natural to them, the treatments and therapies attempting to fix what had never been broken failed them abysmally. And most of them went through life, if they survived at all, so emotionally and psychologically damaged that they never found peace, let alone joy.

Unless they happened to encounter a doctor able to think outside the traditional medical box. Or another psychic with the awareness and willingness to help them.

Diana Brisco, Quentin was certain, was a psychic. He wasn’t sure what ability she possessed; though he could usually recognize another psychic, his own ability allowed him only to look forward—not into another’s mind or emotions. He was also unsure how strong her ability or abilities were.

Strong enough that she was here undergoing “one more round of self-examination” in an attempt to heal herself. Strong enough that she had likely been medicated at various points in her life. Strong enough that now, in her late twenties or early thirties, she wore the finely honed look of someone for whom stress was a constant companion.

Yet she was also strong enough to have survived this long, sane and able to function even believing something inside her was wrong, and that said a lot about her character.

So she was strong, strong enough to handle her abilities if she only knew how to do that. And she was here. Fate had brought her here, now. Brought her to The Lodge, this particular place, at this particular time.

Even more, she had come up to the observation tower at the crack of dawn, her own muttered words an indication that she hadn’t even been sure why she was climbing the stairs rather than seeking out a far more likely place to find coffee.

“Gotta be a reason,” Quentin heard himself murmur. “There are no coincidences. And some things have to happen just the way they happen.”

It wasn’t what he’d come here to do, help a troubled psychic. But Quentin, though not a complete fatalist, had been convinced for some time that certain encounters and events in one’s life were mapped out in advance, predetermined and virtually set in stone. Crossroads, intersections where key decisions or choices had to be made.

And he thought this might be one of them, for him. What he did or didn’t do now could determine his path from this point onward, perhaps even his ultimate fate.

“The universe puts you where you need to be,” he reminded himself, repeating something Bishop and his wife, Miranda, often told their team of investigators. “Take advantage of it.”

The question was . . . how?



Ellie Weeks knew she was going to get fired. She knew it. And the reasons why she would get fired made up a long list, at the top of which was the secret, passionate affair she’d had with one of the guests a few weeks back.

Number two on the list was getting pregnant.

There had been a cold knot of terror in her belly ever since she’d used the early pregnancy test that morning—for the third time this week. Positive. All positive.

Three faulty tests in a row were hardly likely, she knew that all too well. So they hadn’t been faulty. And she could no longer ignore or pretend to ignore the awful truth.

She was unmarried, going to have a baby, and the father of her child was—he had told her, by way of ending their affair—already married. Happily.

Happily married. Christ.

Men were bastards, every last one of them. Her father had been a bastard, and every man she’d been involved with in her twenty-seven years had been a bastard.

“You’re just not lucky with men,” her friend and fellow maid at The Lodge, Alison, had offered sympathetically when Ellie had confessed to a heartbreaking “fling” without going into details as to who the man was and where the affair had taken place. “My Charles is a fine man. He has a brother, you know.”

Ellie, queasy with morning sickness and a gnawing bitterness, had informed her friend that she never wanted to hear from another man as long as she lived, no matter how fine their brothers were.

Now, as she pushed the noisy vacuum over the carpet of the GingerRoom in the North Wing, Ellie wondered miserably what was going to happen to her. She figured she had, maybe, three or four months before her pregnancy became obvious to everyone. And then she’d be fired, out on her ass with no savings and nobody to turn to for help. With a baby on the way.

If she had the nerve, she’d contact the baby’s father. But he was not only wealthy and famous, he was a politician, and Ellie had the uneasy suspicion that he’d know plenty of people who could and would take care of a little problem like a pregnant ex-lover turning up. And it wouldn’t be by paying her off, either.

Ellie wasn’t that lucky.

The vacuum began making an unholy racket then, and she hastily turned it off. She hadn’t noticed anything in the deep pile carpet, but obviously somebody had dropped a coin or something else metallic. She knelt and turned the vacuum on its side, peering at the rotating brush head.

It turned easily under her probing touch, so she shook the vacuum a few times, until what had been rattling around inside dropped to the carpet.

It was a little silver locket, heart-shaped and engraved on the front with a name. Ellie picked it up and studied it. The sort of thing a child might wear, she thought. She used a thumbnail to try prying it open, but it stubbornly resisted her attempts, and she finally gave up.

She knew better than to merely leave it on the nightstand or dresser. Climbing to her feet, she went to her cart in the hall and got one of the envelopes provided for just this sort of thing. She wrote the date, the time, and the room name on the outside, then gave the locket a last look before dropping it into the envelope and sealing it. Then she put the envelope in one of the cart’s lower compartments.

“Okay, Missy,” she murmured, “your locket will be at the Lost and Found in Housekeeping. Safe and sound.”

Then she went back into the GingerRoom and continued her work, the roar of the vacuum drowning the sound of her voice when she murmured aloud, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do. . . .”



Diana was glad there was a workshop class scheduled later that morning. Meeting Quentin had shaken her more than she wanted to admit; left with nothing to do but brood over the question of how she had been able to draw a very fair likeness of him before ever setting eyes on him, she might well have bolted.

Instead, she found herself standing in her usual corner of the conservatory, the easel with her large working sketchpad open to a fresh page before her, frowning as she half listened to the pleasant murmur of Beau Rafferty’s voice. He was instructing his students to use their charcoal sticks to sketch whatever was uppermost in their minds this morning, whether it be an idea, an emotion, a problem, or whatever else bothered or preoccupied them.

“Don’t think about what you’re doing,” he told them, repeating what he had told Diana privately the day before. “Let your thoughts wander. Just draw.”

Diana resisted the impulse to once again sketch Quentin’s face. Instead, she thought about her predawn experience and the maybe-dream of the plea for help traced on a windowpane.

Help us.

Us? Who was “us”? No. Never mind. It was a dream. Only a dream.

Just another strange dream, another symptom, another sign she was getting worse instead of better.

It scared her. This illness of hers had disrupted her life from the time she was eight years old, and twenty-five years was a long time to deal with anything like that. But at least in those early years she had been able to function normally most of the time. There had been some dreams, scattered instances of thinking she had heard someone speaking to her when there had been no one nearby, even eerie glimpses of people or things, like a flicker of motion caught from the corner of her eye but gone when she tried to look straight at them.

Unsettling, to be sure, and it had worried her father when she had mentioned this or that occurrence. But it was only when Diana hit adolescence that the symptoms had begun to seriously interfere with her life.

The blackouts had been the most frightening. “Waking up” to find herself in a strange place or doing something she never would have done consciously. Dangerous things, sometimes. Once, she had opened her eyes to realize, to her terror, that she was up to her waist in the lake near her home.

Fully clothed. In the middle of the night. Just wading out toward the middle of the lake. And at the time, she hadn’t been able to swim.

After that, she learned.

What had been called “disturbances” by school officials had led to special private tutors who struggled to complete her education while doctors struggled to find the right combination of medication and therapy to enable her to function.

There were times she was so heavily medicated she’d been little more than a zombie, resulting in whole stretches of her life she could barely remember. Times when new medications caused “adverse” reactions far worse than the symptoms they were meant to treat. And many times when yet another doctor with yet another theory offered hope of a cure only to ultimately admit defeat.

Through it all, through twenty-five years of doctors and clinics and therapies and medications, Diana had, at least, learned to play their games. She had learned, through painful trial and error, which responses and answers would lead to more drugs and which signaled “improvement” to the doctors.

She had learned to fake it.

Not that she didn’t sincerely try to get better. Try to listen to what they told her. Try to be as honest as she could, if only silently, to herself, in weighing what she thought and felt.

Because even with all the unsettling, frightening occurrences in her life, with all the confusion in her mind and her troubled emotional state, deep inside herself Diana truly believed she was sane.

Which, sometimes, frightened her most of all.



Beau moved among his students, offering a quiet word or smile here and there, gradually working his way back to the far corner where Diana had set up her easel on the first day. He wondered if she was even aware of what signal that sent, that she cornered herself deliberately, looking out on those around her with wary defensiveness, her back to the wall.

Probably. She didn’t lack self-awareness, despite the concerted efforts of mainstream doctors to convince her that she only had to understand herself to be able to heal herself.

Which, of course, was bullshit, at least in the strictest sense. Diana didn’t need to understand herself, she needed to understand her abilities and accept them as natural and normal for her.

She needed to stop believing she was crazy.

As he neared her corner, Beau was conscious of a surge of satisfaction, not unmixed with concern. Her gaze was fixed on the open workbook on her easel, but at the same time it was a distant, unfocused look. She was expressionless, yet her hand moved rapidly, the scratching of charcoal on paper not at all tentative.

Without saying a word, Beau stepped to where he could see what she was drawing. He studied it for a moment, looked at Diana long enough to note her dilated pupils, then moved away as silently as he had approached.

Within a minute or so, he began releasing the other students, one at a time. It was something he had done before, so no one was surprised. He spoke to each briefly, commenting on their work or their mood, listened if they wished to talk to him, and then sent them from the conservatory to get some fresh air or exercise or meditate in one of the gardens, whatever was appropriate for the individual.

He didn’t release Diana, or even approach her again.

Instead, Beau took up a position by the open doorway, so that she wouldn’t be disturbed by anyone entering the quiet building. He leaned against the casing and looked out toward the gardens, listening to the steady scratching of charcoal on paper and patiently waiting.



If Quentin had learned anything in his years with the SCU, it was that there really was no such thing as coincidence. No matter how random something appeared to be, there was always a connection. Always.

Diana Brisco was here at The Lodge in a troubled search for answers; Quentin was also here searching. The possibility that he could help her with her search told him it was also possible that she could help him with his.

He had no idea how. It seemed bizarre to suppose that she could have any connection with what had happened here twenty-five years before, especially when she had told him this was her first visit to The Lodge. But all his instincts as well as the quiet voice in his mind insisted there was a connection.

All he had to do was find it.

Another man might well have been daunted, but after too many years of sifting through the same information again and again and finding no answers at all, Quentin felt energized at the mere possibility that there was a new avenue to explore. But he had to be cautious, he knew that. Whatever else she was, Diana was emotionally vulnerable; if he pushed too hard or too fast . . .

So, hard as it was for him to cultivate patience, he forced himself to let a few hours go by before he sought her out. He had breakfast, and then went down to the stables hoping to talk to Cullen Ruppe, the man who had been here at The Lodge twenty-five years before.

It was Ruppe’s day off.

Malevolent fate again.

Quentin was left to prowl restlessly around the stables and gardens for a while, before he finally gave in and found out—with some difficulty, given the hotel staff’s famous discretion—where the painting workshop was being held.

As he approached the conservatory, he was silently debating how to handle this meeting when he was thrown off balance by a completely unexpected development.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

Beau Rafferty smiled. “Teaching a workshop.”

Quentin eyed him suspiciously. “Uh-huh. And I suppose Bishop had nothing to do with it?”

“This series of therapeutic artistic workshops,” Beau replied pleasantly, “was established years ago. They’ve been so successful that at least two are held each year. In different parts of the country. Taught by different artists. We’re all volunteers and sign up well in advance, supplying information such as the time of year or area of the country in which we’d prefer to teach. Then each of us goes through training so we’re better equipped to deal with our troubled students.”

“And when did you sign up?” Quentin inquired, his tone just as affable.

“About six months ago.”

“Saying you thought April in Tennessee might be nice?”

“Well, it is, isn’t it? I suggested The Lodge. I was told it would be the perfect setting.”

Quentin sighed. “So Bishop did have something to do with it.”

“With putting me here, certainly. But you know as well as I do that what happens next is always up to us. And at the end of the day, I’m just here to teach a therapeutic workshop.”

“You’re the one who’s here to help Diana?” Quentin didn’t even try to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

Beau smiled. “I’m just teaching a workshop, Quentin. I don’t think either one of us believes that will provide Diana with the answers she’s looking for. It may pose a few more questions for her, though.”

Frowning, Quentin looked past the other man into the conservatory. He saw Diana in the far corner, standing behind an easel, her face oddly without expression as her right hand moved rapidly. From this angle, he couldn’t see what she was drawing, but something about her posture and that curious absence of emotion on her face . . .

“Is she doing what I think she’s doing?” he asked.

“Yeah, she’s on autopilot. Has been for nearly half an hour now. The artistic version of automatic writing, totally from the subconscious and whatever psychic senses are tapped.”

Quentin looked quickly back at the artist. “Jesus, Beau, you told me yourself that’s dangerous as hell.”

“It is. It’s also the only way, sometimes, to unlock the door blocking us.”

“Maybe it’s blocking her for a reason.”

“There’s always a reason, Quentin. And, always, there’s a moment when it’s time for the door to be unlocked.” He paused, adding, “Bishop said to tell you it’s time.”

“You mean—”

“I mean all the pieces are finally here. All the pieces you need to solve your puzzle.”

Quentin stared at him. “Why do all the people around me talk in metaphors?”

“Probably to see that look on your face.”

Refusing to laugh, Quentin merely said, “In plain English, did Bishop offer up any sage advice as to how I’m supposed to help Diana?”

“No.”

“Free will. Dammit.”

“We make our own choices and follow our own paths. Not even Bishop can control what happens once a situation begins to unfold. Obviously, this one is unfolding.” Beau glanced back over his shoulder at the absorbed Diana, and added, “She’ll be coming out of it any minute now. I don’t have to tell you that she’ll be . . . upset. Disoriented. And disinclined to put much trust in a stranger. Be careful, Quentin.”

Quentin watched the other man stroll away, muttering under his breath, “Easy for you to say.”

He really didn’t have a clue how to handle what he strongly suspected was going to be a very difficult interlude. But that had never stopped him before, so he squared his shoulders, drew a deep breath, and went into the conservatory.

He barely glanced at sketches on other easels as he passed them, thinking only that Beau was clearly dealing with a number of emotionally disturbed persons if their drawings were any indication.

When he reached Diana, he studied her face first, noting the dilated pupils and intent but expressionless face. He wasn’t sure whether he should touch her or say her name, but before either option could be put to the test, she blinked suddenly, shook her head a little, and dropped the charcoal stick she held, flexing her fingers as though they ached.

“Diana?”

She looked at him, frowning. “What’re you doing here?” She sounded not so much dazed as a little sleepy.

“I wanted to buy you lunch,” he said, following his instincts.

“Oh. Well—” She glanced at her sketch, then looked back at it quickly, her face going pale and an expression of fear tightening her features.

Quentin reached out to grasp her arm, still following his instincts, and then looked for the first time at what she had drawn. And it was his turn to feel total shock.

Amazingly detailed, especially for a charcoal sketch, it was a view looking out a window from inside. A window seat with pillows framed the view, and through the panes of glass a garden scene was visible. A spring garden, judging from the smudges that were surprisingly vivid little black-and-white portraits of various flowers.

Standing in that scene, looking toward the window, was a girl. She was perhaps eight or nine years old, with long hair and sad, sad eyes. She wore a small heart-shaped locket around her neck.

“My God,” Quentin said. “Missy.”





3


Missy?” Diana tore her gaze from the sketch to stare at him. “You know her? You mean—she’s real?” She sounded shaken now, and there was a new tension in her body, as though she were poised to run.

Quentin got a grip on himself, realizing in the same instant that his grip on her arm had tightened unconsciously. She didn’t seem to notice, but he forced his fingers to relax at least a little, and summoned a smile he hoped was reassuring.

“You’ve captured her beautifully,” he said, keeping his tone casual. “I could never forget those sad eyes.”

“But . . . I don’t know who she is. I don’t know anybody named Missy.”

“Maybe you’ve just forgotten,” he suggested. “It was a long time ago.”

“What?”

Quentin swore silently and tried again. “Look, Diana, why don’t we talk about this over lunch?”

“Why don’t we talk about it here?” Seemingly noticing his grip for the first time, she pulled her arm free. “Who is Missy, Quentin?”

He forced himself to look at the sketch again, consideringly this time. Asking himself if the resemblance he had first seen really existed. There was, after all, no reason to further upset Diana if he’d imagined the similarity.

Except . . . he hadn’t. Because that was Missy. Not an image that merely resembled her, but her. The big, sad eyes. Long, dark hair. The oval face with its stubborn chin. Even the way she was standing, one foot tucked behind the other ankle, balancing easily, was characteristic.

And it was painful, how vividly alive she was in his mind.

“Quentin?”

He looked at Diana, fully aware that he wasn’t much good at hiding his feelings. “Maybe it’s just my imagination,” he suggested.

Spacing the words for emphasis, she said, “Do you know who this girl is?”

“Was,” he said finally. “Who she was. Missy Turner was murdered, Diana, at the age of eight. Here at The Lodge. Twenty-five years ago.”

She stared at him, drawing a slow, deep breath, then said with what was obviously a tenuous calm, “I see. Then I must have seen a photograph somewhere.”

“Do you remember seeing one?”

“No. But my memory isn’t the best. Some of the medications I’ve been on . . . stole time from me.”

He thought that was one of the most wrenching things he’d ever heard despite her matter-of-fact tone, and had to clear his throat before saying, “We can figure this out, Diana. But not standing here. Why don’t we have lunch—out on the veranda, if you like, in the sunshine—and talk?”

Again, her wavering was visible, and Quentin spoke quickly to persuade her.

“You came here for a reason. One more round of self-examination, remember? And in the process of that self-examination, you drew an amazing picture of a little girl who died twenty-five years ago. A little girl whose murder I’ve been trying to solve most of my adult life. There must be an explanation for that, and I think we both need to find it. That’s worth a conversation over lunch, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she replied slowly. “Yes, I think it is.”

“Good. Thank you.”

Diana looked at the sketch a moment longer, then carefully tore that page from the pad and rolled it up. She slid it inside the oversized tote bag hanging on the side of her easel, then took off the smock she wore and hung it in place of the tote bag.

Quentin noticed that the tote bag held a smaller version of the sketchpad on the easel, but didn’t comment as she put the strap over one shoulder and indicated with a nod that she was ready to leave.

It wasn’t until they reached the door that she realized something, asking, “Was I here alone when you came in? Where was Beau?”

“He left when I got here.” Quentin didn’t elaborate and hoped she wouldn’t question him further on the subject.

Diana frowned, but shrugged as though to herself. She didn’t say anything else until they were settled at a table on the veranda and the attentive waitress had taken their order and left them with iced tea and a basket of rolls.

Ignoring both, Diana said, “You said you’d been trying to solve her—her murder most of your adult life. Why? Were you related to her?”

“No.”

“Then why? If it was twenty-five years ago, you had to be no more than a child yourself.”

“I was twelve.”

“Were you here when it happened?”

He nodded. “I grew up in Seattle, but that summer my father moved us into one of the cottages here because he was doing some work near Leisure. He’s an engineer, and he was overseeing the construction of a major bridge.”

“So you spent the summer here. What about Missy? Did she live here?”

“Her mother was a maid in The Lodge. In those days, some of the employees had small apartments in what eventually became the North Wing. That’s where Missy lived.” He shrugged. “There weren’t many kids around that summer, so those of us who were here tended to do things together. Hiked, fished, rode the horses, swam. Typical summer stuff, mostly designed to keep us out of the way of the grownups.”

Diana could barely remember being eight, so she was guessing when she said, “Did Missy have a crush on you?”

He smiled slightly at the word, but nodded. “Looking back—yeah, she probably did. At the time, thinking myself so grown-up, I just saw her as a tag-along kid. She was the only girl in the group, and the youngest of us. But she was shy and sweet, she didn’t mind bugs or jokes or the messes boys got into, and I . . . got used to having her around.”

Still guessing, Diana said, “You’re an only child.”

He didn’t seem surprised by the statement. “Yeah. So having other kids around all the time was a novelty for me, one I enjoyed. To me, by the end of the summer Missy had become the little sister I never had.”

“By the end of the summer?”

Quentin nodded. “It was when she died. In August. It’ll be twenty-five years this coming August.”

“What happened?”

His face tightened, and a bleak chill entered his eyes. Slowly, he said, “There was something weird about that summer, from the very beginning. At the time, I thought it was just that The Lodge was old, and that old places had a creepy feel to them; it was something I’d noticed before then, at other places. And then, being kids, we scared each other senseless with ghost stories around campfires down near the stables, pretty much on a nightly basis. But it was more than tall tales and overly active imaginations. We—all of us—had experiences that summer that we really couldn’t explain.”

“Like what?”

“Bad dreams when we’d never had them before. Catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of our eyes, only to turn and find nothing there. Strange sounds we heard in the night. Places in the buildings and on the grounds that felt wrong to us. Places that felt . . . bad.”

Quentin grimaced slightly. “When you’re a kid, you’re not very good at articulating something you feel, or at least I wasn’t. All I knew was that there was something wrong here. And I should have told someone.”

Diana, intent, frowned slightly. “You blame yourself for what happened to Missy? Because of that?”

“Not just because of that,” he said. “Because Missy was afraid. Because she tried to tell me what she was afraid of—and I didn’t listen. Not then, and not two days later when she tried to tell me again. That was the last time I saw her alive.”



---



By late morning, Madison had explored most of the gardens, or at least those that interested her. Which was a good thing. She had returned obediently to the main building and inside to have an early lunch with her parents, and reluctantly promised afterward to stay inside because storms were forecast for the afternoon.

Since she was an independent child and not the sort to be destructive or get herself into trouble, her parents didn’t object when she announced her intention of exploring inside as she had the gardens.

“But remember the rule, Madison,” her mother said. “Stay out of other people’s rooms. Why don’t you go to the library or the game room?”

“I probably will, Mama. Come on, Angelo.” She left her parents in their two-bedroom suite—the Orchid Room, officially—and set off with her canine companion to explore.

She did check out the game room, finding one other child in there: a boy of perhaps ten who was utterly absorbed in the video game he was playing. There were a few adults in the room as well, several grouped around a pool table and others talking quietly over games of chess or cards, also engrossed in what they were doing.

Madison shrugged and went to study stacks of board games and puzzles on shelves by several handy tables. She responded politely to one elderly lady’s greeting, helpfully picking up a playing card that had fallen to the floor near her chair.

“Well! No wonder it wouldn’t come out right,” the lady said, staring at the half-finished game of solitaire spread out before her. “Thank you, dear.”

“You’re welcome.” Madison’s experience with elderly ladies told her that this one would talk to her as long as she stood there, so she wasted no time in moving away. It wasn’t that she didn’t like elderly ladies, it was just that she wanted to see what else the hotel had to offer.

They were supposed to stay here for a whole week, and Madison was determined to explore her options.

She left the game room and continued on, saying to Angelo, “I think you’re the only dog here.”

Angelo hesitated, whining, when she turned down the long hallway leading to the North Wing, and she said impatiently, “You didn’t want to go into the ZenGarden, either, but we had fun in there, didn’t we?”

The little dog whined again, but when his favorite person in the whole world continued without pausing, he hurried to catch up, ears and tail lowered in unhappiness.

“You’re a baby,” Madison informed him. “I told you that you don’t have to be afraid of them. They’ve never hurt us before, have they?”

Whatever Angelo thought about that declaration he kept to himself, sticking close to Madison as she explored two sitting areas and a couple of short hallways before going up the stairs to the next floor.

“Madison!”

She smiled at the little girl beckoning from the other end of the hall, and hurried toward her. “Hey! I was beginning to think I’d never find you.”

“I said I’d be here, didn’t I?” her new friend replied.

“Yeah, but you didn’t say where.” Madison joined her at the T-junction of the hallway, looking to the left and the right to find two more shorter corridors. “What’s up here? Be quiet, Angelo,” she added in an aside to her whining dog.

“There’s a secret place. Want to see?”

“Like a secret room or something?” Madison liked that idea. “Where?”

“Follow me.” Her new friend led the way toward a dark green door at the end of the hallway.

Whining louder, Angelo followed them.



Diana pushed her plate away and said, “It’s no use. I can’t just eat and pretend I’m not waiting for the rest of your story.”

Since he didn’t have much appetite himself, Quentin didn’t protest except to say, “Murder isn’t the best thing to talk about over lunch.”

“You should have thought of that before you suggested it.”

“I did.” He smiled wryly. “But I also thought you’d be more willing to sit and talk if the setting was . . . unthreatening. Lunch on a sunny veranda, other people near, no reason to feel crowded or cornered.”

“Why would I feel that way in any case?”

“It was an impression I got this morning. That the observation tower was too small, even open as it is, that you felt uneasy there. Then again, maybe it was just me.” He gazed at her steadily.

Somewhat evasively, she said, “You seem to get a lot of feelings about . . . places. About this place.”

Quentin allowed the shift in subject, still cautiously feeling his way with her. “Some people, to varying degrees, of course, are sensitive to their surroundings,” he said matter-of-factly, pushing his own mostly untouched plate away. “Our brains are apparently hardwired to pick up electrical and magnetic impulses that most people aren’t aware of.”

“How is that possible?” She was toying with her glass, frowning a bit.

“How could it not be? It’s the way the human brain works, Diana, by transmitting electrical impulses. Energy. And energy is all around us. It only makes sense that some people possess a stronger-than-average sensitivity to that energy. I mean, as a species we throw out an occasional genius or inexplicably gifted person, a Mozart or an Einstein or a Hawking. Their brains seem to work differently from the norm, but it doesn’t make them less human.” He shrugged. “I think we’re just beginning to understand how the mind really works. Who knows what we’ll define as ‘normal’ in the years and generations to come?”

Slowly, she said, “So you really do feel things about places? About people?”

“A bit, though it’s not my strong suit,” he replied easily. “But a place like The Lodge has such a long history it’s not all that surprising that its energy would be unusually strong. Strong enough so that even I can pick up on it sometimes. A clairvoyant or a medium would probably sense a lot more.”

She blinked. “You’re talking about . . . ESP?”

“I guess some people still call it that. Or the paranormal.” He shrugged again, keeping his tone casual. “The very idea of psychic ability is still denied by many in the mainstream, but as more and more research is being done, we’re learning that very few things are impossible when it comes to the human mind.”

“You seem to know a lot about it,” she said slowly.

Quentin followed his instincts. “The unit I belong to was designed around the idea that psychic abilities could be channeled constructively and used as investigative tools. So we’ve done plenty of research and have several years of experiences now to study and draw on. Empirical evidence, the scientists call it. Not absolute scientific proof, but we’re getting there.”

“You believe you’re psychic?”

He could hear the tension in her voice and answered carefully. “I have the ability to use my five senses with more cont