Authors: Pamela Callow
“Pamela Callow's debut thriller,
reminded me of the best of Robin Cook: lightning paced, innovative, topicalâ¦and most of all, frightening. Part medical mystery, part bloody thriller, here is a debut that had me flipping pages until the wee hours of the morning.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Doomsday Key
is a taut, edge-of-the-seat thriller with strong characters and a driving plot that's inspired by emerging health technologies that may end up being, well, very bad for certain people's health. Pamela Callow is Halifax's answer to both John Grisham and Tess Gerritsen.”
âLinwood Barclay, bestselling author of
No Time for Goodbye
“A compelling page-turner by a strong new voice in fiction. Pamela Callow is a rising star.”
âRick Mofina, bestselling author of
“Extremely well plotted, Callow's debut novel is a hybrid of a police procedural and medical thriller. Heroine Kate Lange is a standout character, and readers will certainly look forward to reading her further adventures.”
RT Book Reviews
is a chilling and darkly compelling tale that will grip you from the very first page. Pam Callow delivers a complex and spine-tingling thriller. She is definitely an author to watch.”
Look for Pamela Callow's next novel
available August 2011
For those who have taught me along the way:
My father, Martyn Callow, who made me figure out the answers for myself;
My junior high school English teacher, who fanned the spark;
And the late Bill Martinson, a trusted mentor and treasured friend.
Friday, 5:05 p.m.
he siren song of the end-of-workday bustle on Halifax's historic waterfront did not reach law firm McGrath Barrett. Ensconced in the top two floors of one of the city's landmark office towers, McGrath Barrett cocooned its staff from the hubbub of the everyday world with plush carpeting, heavily paneled cubicles and glassed-in offices. Perfect working conditions for honing concentration and maximizing billable hours.
Late afternoon summer sunshine beat through Kate Lange's office window and landed squarely on her back. Even with air-conditioning, the relentless heat dampened her skin. She slid her office chair sideways. Didn't matter. The sun just poured through the glass lining the far wall, issuing the one siren song that McGrath Barrett could not deflect. It urged her to abandon the personal injuries tome on her desk with its impossibly small print.
She rubbed her temple. Just two more cases to review.
Get it over with, Kate. Just like you got through that brutal discovery today.
It had finished an hour ago. Her head still throbbed from it, but she needed to check a couple of cases before she could end her workweek in good conscience.
And thenâa run in the park followed by a night on the town. Hunching over the book, she scowled at the text, mouthing the words. Anything to make them penetrate the late-day haze surrounding her brain.
Ten minutes later, she flipped closed the research book and pushed her chair away from the desk.
Done. It was Friday. It was past 5:00 p.m. It was
. As if that weren't enough to please the residents of Halifax, it was the start of the Natal Day long weekend, Halifax's civic holiday. Three days off. In the middle of summer. She was crazy to be sitting at her desk. And from the hush outside her office, it sounded suspiciously as if she was the only lawyer still lingering.
The phone rang while she was shoving files into her briefcase. She stifled a groan. It had better not be a client. With a quick glance at the pure blue sky beyond her window, she snatched the phone off the cradle.
Kate's shoulders relaxed at the sound of Natalie Pitts' throaty voice. “Hi, Nat.” She balanced the phone in the crook of her neck and began stacking the reports she would take home with her.
“What're you up to tonight?” Natalie Pitts had been Kate's best friend and roomie during her university years. She had moved away after she finished her degree in journalism, only returning in May with high ambitions and a broken heart.
Kate eyed the pile of case reports she'd assembled. It was disappointingly thick.
That's what happens when you don't get your work done, Kate.
Well, at least she didn't have to lug home that massive personal injuries book. “I'm heading down to the Economy Shoe Shop later tonight with the gang from workâyou know, Joanne and some of the other associates.” After Kate saved McGrath Barrett's ass in May, she had suddenly been on everyone's speed dial. And, Kate had to admit, they were a decent bunch of people, despite the professional elbowing. All of the junior associates were younger than she, still on the singles scene. Kate and Joanne were the only associates in their thirties who were partnerless. The ones with kids hurried home on Friday nights, glad to put the workweek behind them. “Do you want to come?”
“Can't tonight. I've got to work tomorrow.” Nat had miraculously landed a job as a reporter for the
no mean feat in the internet-plagued newspaper business. “Do you want to go out for supper before you meet your friends?”
Kate hadn't seen Nat since last week. But Alaska, her Siberian husky, had been waiting all day. Even though her dog walker, Finn Scott, took him for walks, she still felt guilty if she didn't come home right after work. “Do you want to come over for a bite, instead? My kitchen is under drop sheets, but we can eat on the deck.”
“Sure. You can give me the tour. I'll bring takeout. See you in an hour.”
“Can you make it for seven? I've got some errands to do and I'd love to go for a run.” Kate smiled. “I was able to do the full route on Wednesday.”
“Hallelujah! So the leg didn't bother you too much?” Kate's quadriceps had received a nasty stab wound from a scalpel in Mayâone of several injuries she'd sustained in her battle to the death with the Body Butcher, the city's first serial killer.
“Not too much.” Kate shrugged. “Anyway, I can't baby it any longer.”
“You mean, you won't baby it any longer.”
“See you at seven.” Kate hung up before Nat could chide her further. Her leg
hurt after the run, but Kate wasn't going to admit it. It was worth the tradeoff. Running was what kept her on an even keel. The rhythmic motion, the synchronization of her heart and lungs with her pumping legs, the fresh air.
There was one other benefit she hoped to gain by resuming her hour-long run: sleep. She hadn't had a full night's sleep since she survived Craig Peters' attack. Dr. Kazowski, the therapist who had begun counseling Kate after the trauma she had gone through, thought that if Kate returned to some of her usual routines, especially ones that helped relieve stress, the nightmares might stop. Or at least decrease in frequency.
It was the only nudge Kate needed. And today the weather was giving her its blessing.
She hurried into the foyer, the pile of case reports haphazardly stacked in her arms, a sheen of sweat on her forehead and a smile of anticipation on her lips. In an hour, she'd be running with Alaska in Point Pleasant Park. She could almost feel the sea breeze on the back of her neck.
The quiet rush of a newly installed water feature was the only sound in the reception area. It provided
a stunning foil to the equally new art installation that hung kitty-corner from the elevators, and served as a perfect backdrop to the new, postmodern furnishings.
Kate jabbed the elevator button. A trickle of sweat slid down her spine. The air-conditioning had been turned off for the weekend while she was on the phone with Nat. Warm air had already begun to settle in the reception area.
The lack of human sound prickled the hairs on the back of Kate's neck. Ever since her experience in Keane's Funeral Home, silent places were ominous.
To distract herself, she studied the redecorated lobby. After the hits the former Lyons McGrath Barrett had taken to its standing a few months ago, the firm was working hard to restore its sterling reputation. It needed to recover some of the clients that had fled in the wake of the TransTissue scandal. Managing partner Randall Barrettâ
Barrett in McGrath Barrettâhad hired a public relations company to relaunch the firm under its new name. In an effort to distance itself from the scandal that now tarnished its prestige, McGrath Barrett had redecorated the foyer and launched a new ad campaign.
The campaign zeroed in on the firm's best asset: Kate Langeâthe woman Randall Barrett had almost fired just months before. The irony was delicious. Kate had become the firm's new poster girl, her Mona Lisa smile featured above the slogan
Integrity. Excellence. Caring.
The joke in the firm was that Kate cared so much about her clients that she'd kill for them.
Rumor had it that Randall Barrett had chosen the new furnishings in the lobby and Kate had to admit he had
a good eye. She wondered what her hundred-year-old house would look like with a postmodern theme. Probably pretty nice.
Too bad she couldn't afford pieces like that. She glanced at her watch. If the darn elevator ever arrived, and the traffic wasn't too heavy, she could stop at the hardware store and get the paint for the kitchen trim before she went for her run.
She shifted the load of files in her arms, rubbing the straining muscles of her right forearm.
The elevator chimed. Kate's nerves jolted. She gritted her teeth. Her reaction to startling noises was driving her crazy. Dr. Kazowski told her it would go away in time, but so far there was no sign of it being in a hurry to leave. She yanked the strap of her briefcase back up to her shoulder, unsettling the pile of reports in the process, and hurried into the elevator.
“Hi, Kate.” Randall Barrett stood in a dim corner of the elevator. He gave her a friendly but distant nod, the typical interaction of a senior partner with a junior associate.
“Hi.” Kate hugged the reports to her chest, darting a sideways glance at him.
It was the first time she'd seen him in weeks. The first time she'd been alone with him since she'd returned to work in early June.
Randall's face was tense, preoccupied. He did not exude his usual vitality. In fact, he looked exhausted.
Kate stared straight ahead, unwilling to let him see how much his presence got under her skin. Did he sense her tension? she wondered.
Whatever you do, don't babble, Kate.
At the fourteenth floor, he broke the silence. “Any plans for the weekend?” His tone was courteous. That was all.
She shifted against the wall. “Not too much. Just painting my house.” She nodded toward her overflowing arms. “I'm working on the Great Life case. It's taking a lot of time.”
That should make him happy. Lots of billable hours.
He nodded almost absentmindedly. “Good.”
The silence grew as the elevator descended. Kate studied the numbers above the door. Eleven, ten. She heard Randall's breathing. The elevator was stuffy. She became aware of the faint scent of his sweat. Something she'd never smelled before. She darted another glance at him. He was oblivious to her.
She turned her face away. For the past three months, she'd wondered if she'd just imagined his interest in her. Then she'd tell herself, no, she hadn't dreamed his visit to her hospital room. And she knew there'd been a tenderness to his gaze the day she returned to work after recovering from her injuries.
But it had all changed. Almost overnight, he had become distant. Had seemed to avoid her. Definitely letting her know by his cool greeting and remote smile that whatever moments had been exchanged between them during the TransTissue file were not going to be repeated.
Maybe he'd been faking it. Maybe he'd just been using her to help shore up McGrath Barrett's rocky reputation after the TransTissue scandal.
He stared at the elevator doors, his shoulders tense,
his expression brooding. A man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. She wondered what he did in his spare time. Did he play sports? Read books?
Go on dates?
The fact that she knew so little about him was another indication that she should just leave well enough alone. Whatever drew her to him could not be founded on anything that promised a permanent residence for her battle-weary heart.
The elevator stopped at P1, chiming Randall's departure. He moved toward the doors. “Have a good month, Kate.”
He must have read the surprise in her face because he added, “I'm beginning my vacation.”
“Really?” He didn't have the air of a man about to take a holiday.
He arched a brow. “Really.”
The doors slid open.
“Are you going anywhere?”
“I'm going sailing.” He stepped out of the elevator. “With my son.”
With a brusque nod, he disappeared into the shadowed concrete corridor of the parkade.
Kate watched the elevator doors close. Not even a goodbye.
She exhaled, staring at her dull reflection in the mirrored doors. Fine.
The elevator stopped at her parking level. She strode into the parkade, her step quick and purposeful. But it didn't matter. Her heart pounded. She could park on a different level, close to the elevator, always by an
overhead lightâbut no matter the tricks she employed to fool her mind, her body always remembered the terror of being chased by a man intent on killing her.
She looked around. The parkade was empty.
That was almost worse.
She hurried to her car and unlocked the door, dumping her files on the backseat, then slid into the driver's seat. Only when the doors were locked and the engine was started did her heart slow down.
She eased her way out of the parkade. The brilliant July sunshine almost blinded her as she drove through the gate. It was surreal, after the dank interior she'd just exited. She rolled down her window. A warm breeze lifted the hair around her face.
This was why Nova Scotians slogged it through the winter. Because there was no better place to be in the summer if the sun was shining.
She felt her fingers relax on the steering wheel. She'd get the paint, enjoy her run, have supper with Nat and go for a few drinks.
No one would stop her from enjoying the sunshine.
Friday, 5:38 p.m.
lise Vanderzell stuffed a potato chip into her mouth. Damn, it tasted good. That's what she loved about road trips: the junk food. She knew she shouldn't indulge, shouldn't let her kids indulge, but this was their summer vacation.
And after the hellishness of the months leading up to it, they deserved to enjoy every salt-slicked, grease-laden bite.
She eased the car into the long line of rush hour traffic on Robie Street, glancing in her rearview mirror. Her son, Nick, lounged against the backseat. It was funny how you can see someone all the time and never notice anything different, but then throw a casual look at them one day and realize that the world had shifted.
It took Elise a moment to register what was different. Then it hit her: Nick seemed comfortable in his own skin. His body was filling out, no longer a tangle of gangly limbs connected to gargantuan feet. But it was more than that.
. Nick looked relaxed. Sated by his meatball sub, relieved by his mother's acquiescence to his plans for summer camp next week, Nick watched Halifax unfold past them with a look of near contentment.
Hope stuck a cautious toe into her heart.
Ahead, the traffic halted at the Willow Tree intersection. Elise stepped on the brake. It had been years since she'd been here, but she still remembered the Commons, stretching out in verdant green to their left. People played with dogs on the broad stretch of grass, runners doing laps around its perimeter.
Summer, Nova Scotia style.
She rolled down her window and breathed in. She'd forgotten how clean the air was here. No smog. Just fog. The silly rhyme made her smile.
Something loosened in her chest, the tightness that had been holding her together the past few months finally letting go.
She breathed in again deeply, feeling her lungs expand, anticipation giving her blood a little zing. The month spread out before her: no schedules, no routines, no demands. Just her, her cottage, her books for the first two weeks while the kids visited their father, and then hanging out with her kids for the last two. By the time they arrived at the cottage, she would be fully recovered and recharged, ready to enjoy them. She was looking forward to it. Even though the three of them lived together 24/7 in Toronto, the actual time she spent with her kids felt more like twenty-four seconds.
She reached over the gear shift and patted Lucy's knee. “This is going to be fun, Luce.”
Her daughter grinned. At twelve, Lucy was a looker.
Thick, wavy blond hair. Eyes that changed like the sea. A wide, smiling mouth. Her face was still childishly round, but Elise knew her daughter would eventually sport the same broad cheekbones as she. “I can't wait for riding camp.”
“You think that cute instructor will be back?” Elise teased.
“Mu-um.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “I don't care.” But there was a faint tinge to her cheeks. Her daughter was growing up. Nicely, Elise was proud to realize. She was mature, caringâdespite what she claimed. Elise couldn't wait to see the woman Lucy would become.
“So when do we go to your cottage, Mum?” Lucy asked.
“In a few weeks. After you visit your dad.” Elise tried to keep her voice casual, but Nick shifted behind her. The conversation was nearing territory that neither she nor Nick had any desire to visit.
“Is it right on the beach?” Lucy asked.
Elise's shoulders relaxed at the reprieve her daughter gave her. “Yup. And I just read that the beach is renowned for its sand dollars.”
“Cool.” Lucy smiled. “I can add some to my shell collection.”
Elise squeezed her knee. “There's body surfing, too. And I thought we could plan a whale-watching excursion.”
“Did you know we saw a whale go by Grandma Penny's house once?” Elise's ex-mother-in-law lived in Prospect, a seaside community forty minutes outside of Halifax. “It was a finback whale.”
“No, it wasn't,” Nick said from behind her. “It was a right whale.”
“Oh, yeah, you're
Lucy smirked. “Get it?”
Nick reached forward and ruffled Lucy's hair. “No one could miss it.” Nick's tone was dripping with older-brother condescension, but it was also warm with affection. Elise's breath released. Nick wasn't completely cutting himself off from his familyâor at least, not from Lucy.
“Are we almost there?” Lucy asked, making a show of smoothing her mussed-up hair but unable to hide her pleasure from Nick's unexpected gesture.
Elise couldn't remember the last time Nick had initiated contact with either of them. She hoped being away from Toronto would give her a chance with him. A chance to understand why Nick had done the things he did this year. A chance to change things for the better. Her heart lifted and she realized she was experiencing something she'd believed was out of her reach: happiness. “We're about ten minutes from Cathy's house,” she said to Lucy.
Cathy Feldman, Elise's old law school roommate, was now a professor at the law school. Cathy had not hesitated to offer her house when she heard Elise was coming to Halifax for the month. Elise's only regret was that her friend wouldn't be thereâCathy was on sabbatical in New Zealand.
“So when do we see Dad?” Lucy asked.
Elise kept her eyes fixed on the line of traffic queued ahead of her. “I'm not sure. I'm going to call your father tonight to let him know Nick won't be going sailing with him.” She threw Lucy a warning look:
. “I'll ask your father to take you to riding camp so I can get Nick to his camp.” She glanced in the rearview mirror. Nick stared out the window, a mutinous look in his eyes, his jaw tense. He knew that phone call would not be pleasant, no matter Elise's attempts to sound unconcerned, and he was already girding himself for battle.
“Let's go out for supper tonight,” Elise said. “We could go down to the waterfront. Get ourselves some real Nova Scotian lobster.”
“Cool!” Lucy grinned.
No answer from the back.
“What do you think, Nicky? Up for a crustacean feast?”
“Whatever.” A chip bag rustled in the backseat.
Don't get angry, Elise. He's probably just as nervous as you about breaking the news to his father.
“Do you think Dad will get mad, Mum? About Nick's camp?” Lucy asked, her voice low. The silence in the backseat seemed to breathe with her.
“Don't worry. I can handle it.” That was a blatant lieâshe'd never been able to manage her emotions around her children's father, but she didn't want to derail her kids' excitement about their vacation before it had even begun.
“It's just that the last time we saw himâ¦” Lucy blinked at Elise. Unshed tears glimmered behind the worry in her eyes. “I don't want you guys to fight again.”
Guilt grabbed at Elise's heart, twisting it into an even tighter knot. As usual, her daughter seemed to read her better than Elise read herself. Her child was her mirror
image, except with one vital difference: Lucy was sunny where Elise was not. Funny how Lucy's infancy threw Elise into a depression so deep she barely clawed her way out of it and now her presence was the only thing that kept Elise from falling into it again.
And what had she done for this daughter who loved her with all her heart?
She was going to put the past few months behind her. Behind all of them. This was a chance to start over. She had made sure there would be no lasting reminders of what had transpired between her and her ex-husband in June. There was only one step leftâ
A car laid on the horn. She jumped.
Geez, Halifax drivers have gotten mean.
“Mum, it's a green light.” Lucy glanced at her with a familiar look of concern.
Elise hit the gas so hard that the SUV lurched forward. “Luce, read me the directions again,” she said, her tone reverting into we-are-starting-a-fun-vacation mode. She wished she didn't have to force it. A few minutes before, she'd been excited.
Just get the damn phone call over with and then celebrate by going out to supper tonight.
She could do this. She knew she could. Her therapist had coached her over the phone this morning on how to handle this. But anxiety nibbled at her. She reached for another potato chip. The bag was empty.
Lucy read the scrap of paper. “It says to go down Robie until you reach the lights at Inglis Street, then turn left. Go straight on Inglis until you reach Young Avenue, then turn left onto Point Pleasant Drive.”
Ten minutes later they reached University Avenue. On impulse, Elise turned right.
“Mum, that's the wrong way,” Lucy cried. From the back, Elise could sense Nick's sudden alertness, but he said nothing.
“I know,” she said. “It's just a slight detour. I want to see my alma mater.” She drove down University Avenue, the long boulevard framed with trees, hospitals on either side and a fire station on the corner. Elise slowed when they neared the law school. It had been years since she'd been a student there, almost twenty, but they had been the most formative of her life.
She'd come to Hollis University Law School at the tender age of twenty-two, untested and unsure of her own strengths. It was hard to remember herself back then. So keen, her mind stretching and expanding to meet the challenge of abstruse legal arguments. She had found her confidence here in Halifax, found some of her closest friends and found a profession.
Surely she could find herself here again.
She wondered if all her classmates had screwed up their lives as much as she had. No. Not all of them. Not Cathy. She was just as solid as ever. Just like the building she drove by. Why had Elise wanted to see her law school? Was she hoping that it would remind her of what she had accomplished?
She was a successful tax lawyer at a prestigious Bay Street firm in Toronto. Acquaintances often asked herâwith a note of incredulity in their voiceâhow she liked being a tax lawyer. Elise knew it sounded dull and arcane, but she loved her work. She loved the elaborate structures, the legal fictions, the satisfaction of rendering
concrete an entity that was abstract. Of giving form to something intangible.
On paper, she looked pretty good. But paper was two-dimensional. Easily crumpled. Easily discarded.
Not like her mistakes.
She hooked the next left so abruptly that Lucy shot her a startled look. Within minutes, they were driving down Young Avenue. Elise took her time driving down the pretty street. It allowed her to admire the stately architectureâand to postpone the phone call she knew she'd have to make once they turned the corner and pulled into Cathy's driveway.
“This is nice,” Lucy breathed, staring out the window. “Is this where we're staying?”
“We're around the corner. Right opposite Point Pleasant Park.” The park was situated on the tip of the Halifax Peninsula. On the east side, to their left, lay the Halifax Harbour. Halifax's vibrant waterfront skirted the harbor, anchored with office towers and hotels on the far end and container piers at the other. On the park's west side, the long finger of saltwater known as the Northwest Arm edged some of the most sought-after real estate in the city. Her ex-husband lived in one of those neighborhoods, about a ten-minute walk to the west of Cathy's house.
Elise drove toward a large stone archway with a wrought-iron gate that declared the end of Young Avenue and its intersection with Point Pleasant Drive. Beyond the stone archway, Elise could see the park. One hundred and eighty-five acres of pine trees, old forts and walking trails. Tomorrow morning Elise would get up early and walk the trails. Long dormant anticipation
uncurled. She could just imagine the cool mystery of the early morning, the long expanse of quiet ocean disappearing into the horizon, the soft crush of pine-needle-strewn paths underfoot.
“It's not far from Dad's house, is it?” Lucy asked.
Elise searched for Nick's face in the rearview mirror. All she got was his profile. The closer they were to their destination, the more remote he became.
Hang on, Nicky. Just one phone call and you're home free.
“No, it's not.”
Elise slowed at the stop sign by the intersection. Lucy shrieked with delight. “Nick, look at the fountain!”
Elise laughed. A large fountain marked a footpath into Point Pleasant Park. It frothed in the sunshine, a two-foot-high mound of bubbles. Someone had put shampoo in the water.
“Mum, can we jump in?” Lucy asked. She reached for her seat belt.
“In a minute.” Elise turned left. “Cathy's house is just down the hill. After we dump our bags, you guys can check out the fountain.”
While I call your father
. It would give her some privacy. She didn't want the kids to hear this conversation.
Cathy's house was located in a recessed lot on Point Pleasant Drive, facing the park. It had been built on an incline that dropped off steeply in the back. Hedges outlined the side and rear boundaries of the property, much taller than when Elise had last seen them.
Cathy probably let them grow to block the sight of the container pier.
Elise pulled into the driveway. Dark green exterior.
. White shutters.
. Large wraparound porch.
. All with the slightly shabby look of an academic who was too preoccupied with cerebral matters to pay attention to peeling paint. Probably hadn't made her too popular in this neighborhood.
Late afternoon sun beat down on the car. Elise turned off the engine, suddenly desperate to get some fresh air.
She flung open the door and stood. Too quickly. Black spots swarmed in front of her eyes. She leaned against the door and breathed in deeply. The air carried a tangy breeze. The spots slowly dissipated.
“Mum, are you okay?” Lucy asked.
“Yes, I'm fine. I just need to catch my breath.” She was glad she'd have a few weeks to recuperate. She'd go to a bookstore tomorrow and stock up on books, newspapers, magazines. She could hardly wait.
She just needed to get that damn phone call over with.
Then she could start her holiday.
Friday, 5:52 p.m.
ate was at the intersection between Young Avenue and the park when an SUV with dark-tinted windows and Ontario plates turned into a driveway across the road. Kate hadn't really been paying attention, but she found herself slowing to a half jog, studying the woman who'd gotten out of the car.
Afterward, she wondered what it was about the woman that caught her attention. She was stunningly attractiveâwavy blond hair that curved in layers to her shoulders, broad cheekbones and long legs. The type of woman most women would look at again. Either with admiration or, more likely, envy.
But it wasn't her looks that caught Kate's eye. It was the way the woman staggered against her car.
Was she going to pass out?
She looked as if she needed help. And Kate wasn't sure if there was anyone to help her. Her license plates indicated she was from out of town. Something about the woman's disheveled state screamed road trip.
Kate tugged at Alaska's leash. “Come on.” She stepped off the curb, heading toward the SUV, then stopped as the passenger door of the car swung open and a preteen version of the blond woman sprang out.
“Mum, are you okay?” Kate heard her ask.
The blond woman straightened, pushing a hand through her mane of hair. She lifted her face to the breeze. “Yes, I'm fine,” she said. “I just need to catch my breath.”
She did look better. Kate stepped back onto the sidewalk, bending down to tighten her shoelace, keeping an eye on the scene across the street.
The air seemed to revive the woman, because she leaned into her car and pulled out her purse. She's not going to pass out, Kate thought. She stood, ready to move on, but Alaska slowed to sniff a tree.
“Oh, look, Mum, there's a husky!” the girl exclaimed, and rushed down the driveway toward Kate. Her mother shot an alarmed look at the large dog.
“Luce, make sure you check with the owner first!”
The girl threw a disgusted look at her mother. “I know, I was going to.” She crossed the road, stopping in front of Kate, her blue eyes a shade darker than Alaska's. “Can I pat your dog?”
“Sure,” Kate said. “His name is Alaska.”
The girl let Alaska sniff her hand, then ran her palm over his neck. “He's so soft,” she breathed.
“Yeah, his fur is nice, isn't it?” Kate said. Alaska allowed the girl to pat him for a minute, then shifted away from her, pulling his leash.
The girl stood back. “Thanks.” She crossed the road, then gave a little wave over her shoulder.
“Have a nice night,” Kate said. She broke into a jog, running down the hill toward the harbor, the shadowy pine trees to her right. She wondered if her quad muscle had cooled down too much and if she should stop to stretch it.
Regular physio had helped with the muscle strength in her quad, but she was still working on reconditioning the leg.
Eager not to lose momentum, Kate focused on her stride, the swing of her arms, her breathing. The irony of her final words to the girl and her mother only hit her the next morning, when she ran past the house again.
They had not had a nice night.
Friday, 6:05 p.m.
lise gave the jogger a cool nod and turned away. She did not want others to see her weakness. They could never resist taking advantage of it.
She slung her purse over her shoulder and leaned into the car to grab her water bottle. A dark blue BMW coupe pulled up behind them.
Her body froze, knowing who it was before her brain acknowledged the man in the unfamiliar car.
She did not want to face him tonight. She'd wanted to break the news of Nick's refusal to go sailing with him over the phone. It was safer.
There was too much pent-up hurt and grief in her to have this conversation face-to-face.
“Daddy!” Lucy called.
He waved to her, a smile warming the tension on his face. “Sweetheart.”
Lucy threw herself into her father's arms. Elise took
a deep breath, her fingers tightening around the water bottle.
Damn him for reawakening feelings she thought were goneâor at least numbed by time. She'd thought her relationship with Jamie had finally closed the door on Randall. But her feelings for her lover had never been the same as the ones she'd had for her ex-husband. No matter how hard she had tried to excise Randall from her heart, she couldn't.
Damn him for making her do something she never thought she'd ever have to do.
She glanced in the rearview mirror and despised herself for doing so. God. Her skin was pale, a clammy sheen on her nose. She scrambled quickly for her compact, dusting the powder over her nose, around her eyes, and then hurriedly skimmed lip gloss over bloodless lips. She stuffed a breath mint in her mouth. Then she put on her sunglasses. At least it hid her eyes from him.
She backed out of the car, aware of how wrinkled and travel stained she looked. Had she even washed her hair this morning?
She couldn't remember. Because her brain was being bombarded with memories of the last time she'd seen her ex-husband. Of feeling him inside her. Of the look on his face when he left.
A cold sweat dampened her armpits.
Deal with it, Elise.
But she wasn't sure if she could. Anxiety, her comrade in despair, was making her breathing uneven.
She pulled her purse strap higher on her shoulder and stepped away from the protection of her hulking car. Nick was still in the backseat. His iPhone was audible
even through the heavy metal of the door. She was sure he had turned it up so he could tune his father out.
Lucy smiled excitedly at her father. He smiled back, his face more open than Elise could remember. They were picture perfect together. A small part of her heart broke at the sight.
She turned and opened the trunk, hauling out her suitcases. She locked the cases' extendable handles and began pulling them up the walkway.
Randall strode toward her. “Let me help.”
“No, it's fine,” she said tightly.
You owe me nothing. You made that clear enough.
She yanked the bags over the uneven walkway. The concrete was cracked. Small spurts of grass caught the wheels of her case. She tugged at the suitcases impatiently.
Randall grabbed two more bags out of the trunk and followed her up the walkway. She felt his eyes on her. She prayed,
please don't let the sweat on my back show through my shirt
She lugged the suitcases up the porch steps and glanced over her shoulder, irritated. What the hell was Nick doing? She'd give him a good talking-to later. Not in front of his dad.
Just as she reached the top step, the second suitcase caught its wheel, pulling her off balance. She teetered on the edge of the step. Randall dropped the bags he was carrying, leaping up the stairs.
Knowing he was about to catch her made her determined not to fall. She righted herself, yanking the suitcase behind her.
“Damn,” Randall muttered. “I'm sorry, Elise.”
She glanced over her shoulder. In his haste to break her fall, Randall had dropped her overnight bag. And, she realized to her chagrin, she must have forgotten to zip it all the way closed this morning.
Now her panties, sanitary pads, two lacy bras, ibuprofen and a host of things she did not want anyone to see graced the weed-pocked grass. She hurried down the porch stairsâgrateful that at least her dirty laundry was in a different suitcaseâand knelt on the ground.
Randall, aware of her embarrassment, grabbed the suitcases she'd abandoned on the porch and pulled open the screen door. “The key is in the mailbox,” Elise said, angling her body so she could covertly stuff the most embarrassing items into her bag. He raised his brows at this example of blithe home ownership and unlocked the door.
He disappeared into the house. Lucy, her arms full of pillows, stuffed animals, her iPod and portable DVD player, backed out of the SUV. When she saw her mother kneeling on the ground, she dropped everything on the lawn and rushed over to help.
Elise gave her daughter a wan smile. “Thanks, honey.” She'd already finished repacking the bag, but she was gratified that her daughter had tried to help her. Unlike her son. What was wrong with that boy? But she knew what was wrong. She just didn't know how to fix it.
Randall came out of the house and strode down the porch steps. His eyes traveled over her. Lingering in places she wished they wouldn't. All her humiliation and anger rushed back. She crossed her arms. “The arrangement was that I would call you after we arrived.”
He shrugged. His brawny shoulders moved smoothly under his pale blue golf shirt.
She could not deal with his physicality right now. The memory was too raw. It had not lessened one iota since she'd last seen him two months ago in Toronto.
“I was impatient to see the kids.” Randall squeezed Lucy's shoulders.
Lucy gave him a quick smile, but Elise could see uneasiness in her eyes. Her daughter was caught between the two of them. The story of her young life.
Well, Elise was sorry about it. She was sorry about most of her life. But she refused to let Randall think that he could suddenly claim the right to show up on her doorstep whenever he pleased just because he wanted “to see the kids.” If he'd wanted to do that, he should have stayed in Toronto. “You need to call first, Randall,” she said coolly. “That's the deal.”
Lucy threw her mother a pained look.
Don't do this
, her eyes begged.
I want to see him.
He shrugged again, but his mouth was tight. He was fighting for control.
He had no idea what it was like to always feel as if your ex got the best of you. “Where's Nick?” he asked, his gaze turning to the tinted rear window of her SUV. “Why isn't he helping?”
Her irritation rose. As usual, he thought he could just pick up where he left off months before, and not listen to a word she said. She felt like a fly buzzing around his golden head. “I told you, you need to call first, Randall.” She pulled her pride around her. Shielding the tattered remains of her dignity. “It's in the agreement.”
“I know what's in the bloody agreement.” His gaze
sharpened. “But if you want more money, I want more access.”
Elise crossed her arms. “What, do you think they're for sale?”
Lucy pulled away from her father. She recognized that the first stone had just been thrown.
Randall shoved his fists into his pockets. “Of course not. You are deliberately misconstruing what I said.”
“Oh, really?” She didn't think so. She didn't think she misconstrued him eight weeks ago when he pulled her into his arms in her Toronto kitchen and kissed her in a way that left no doubt about what he wanted.
And yet, she
misconstrued him. Why else the look on his face when he left her?
She had been a pity fuck.
There was no misconstruing that.
Friday, 6:18 p.m.
ou and I both know that the last agreement was unfair, Elise,” her ex-husband said. Calmly. Too calmly.
No. What was unfair was how you abandoned us and came here.
“It was more than fair,” she said. A flush prickled her chest and arms. She didn't remember Halifax being so hot in the summer.
“Then why are you asking for more money?” Randall shot back.
She inhaled sharply. The bastard. He had trapped her neatly, expert cross-examiner that he was.
“You always need the last word, don't you, Randall?” She stared at him. He raised a brow. “You are such a prick!” she cried, her stomach threatening to heave. She spun on her heel.
You did this to me.
“Mum,” Lucy said, putting her hand on Elise's arm. “Calm down.”
Calm down? She gazed at her daughter's anxious
face. How many times during their marriage had Randall told her the same thing? Making her feel childish, as if she were to blame for their problems.
Lucy had no idea.
what she was going through right now. She jerked her arm away from her daughter. She could not calm down. And she hated herself for it. She hated that her emotions could smash through the taut barricade of her reason as if it were constructed of rice paper.
“Lucy,” Randall said softly. “Go inside.”
Lucy glanced at him, then Elise, her gaze helpless. “Go inside, Lucy,” Elise said. “Please.” Her fingers trembled.
Lucy hurried up the walkway. Elise heard the door latch squeak open, the screen door bang shut behind her.
Randall turned around and looked at Elise. His face, finally, showed his anger.
Elise welcomed it. They had spoken only twice after his life-altering visit in June. The first phone call was just a few weeks later and Elise had gripped the phone, holding her breath. Having the rules change so suddenly had left her own feelings about him in chaos.
She'd spent years regretting the end of her marriage. Then she'd met Jamie Gainsford eighteen months ago. She was one of his clients. Eight months ago she became his lover. And except for one moment of doubt, she'd thought she'd finally found love again.
But Randall's visit in June had made her reexamine her feelings for Jamie. Made her question what they were founded on. Was she just another needy patient who was experiencing transference for her hunky therapist?
No. Jamie felt the same way about her. They had a connection. There was no denying it. That was why they both took the risks they did. He'd never been involved with a client before; it violated his personal and professional ethics. She knew that if their relationship were discovered, Jamie would be kicked out of the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
It was a difficult, stressful situation. They couldn't help their feelings for one another. Yet the Ontario college stipulated that a therapist could only enter into a relationship with a former patient after the treatment had been terminated for two years.
Two years was like two centuries.
Or so Elise had thought. Until that evening in early June when Randall had confronted her in her kitchen.
Would she go back to him if he asked?
But he hadn't asked. He'd just taken what he wanted. And when he called her two weeks later, it was his children he had wanted, not her.
He had invited the kids to spend the month of August with him. She had refused on their behalf, citing the various demands on their schedules. She had also instigated a new demand for increased child support.
But then her world had turned upside down. And suddenly Halifax in August seemed as good a place as any to lick her wounds. She'd called him back, the second and final time they'd spoken before today. He was wary. They'd had a brief conversation, agreed on the dates, then exchanged terse emails.
“Don't speak to me like that in front of the children,” Randall said.
“I'll speak any way I like.”
“Not to me.”
“Then leave,” she said, gratified that she'd turned the tables on him.
“Not until I see Nick.” His face was drawn, his eyes grim. She was pleased to see she had that effect on him. “Where is he?”
“Where do you think?” She jerked her chin toward the car. “Did you think I left him in Toronto?”
“He wanted me to.”
Randall shrugged. “He'll enjoy the trip. I've got it all planned out.”
“Maybe that's the problem,” she said. “Maybe he doesn't want you planning everything for him.”
“It would be a change for him to have a parent do that.” He crossed his arms. “Instead of a nanny.”
She jerked back. “How dare you.” Her voice shook. “I have a career, too. Why should I give it up just because you know full well that you would not make time to look after Nick?”
Randall's eyes flickered toward the SUV, but there was no sign of life within. Nick was plugged into his own world and it didn't include his father. “That's old history, Elise.”
“Not to him.” Her ex-husband just didn't get it. After their divorce was finalized, Nick had begged to live with his father. Since she had no moral ground to stand on, Elise had reluctantly let him go.
As she feared, it had been a disaster. Randall didn't understand Nick's issue with school. Learning had been easy for Randall; doing schoolwork a simple task. For
Nick, it was torture. Plain and simple. What Randall took for procrastination and laziness was in reality a paralyzing fear of failure. After a year and a half of tears, arguments and visits to his teachers, Randall sent twelve-year-old Nick back to live with Elise.
That was three years ago. Nick had never gotten over it.
Randall walked around Elise to the SUV. He stopped at the window on the passenger's side and rapped his fingers lightly on the glass.
There was no sign Nick heard him.
Randall hesitated, then peered into the window. His mouth tightened. He grabbed the door handle and yanked it.
But his son had already locked the door.
Elise watched the two of them, disgust at her husband outweighing dismay at her son's behavior. She hurried over to the car. “You can't force him.”
“Nick,” he yelled through the glass. “Open the door!”
His son turned his back to him. Part of Elise cheered him on.
Randall slapped his hand on the window. “Open the door right now!”
“Randall, this isn't the way to deal with it,” she said.
“Oh, really?” He turned to look at her, his eyes on fire. “I expect him to account for himself. It's time for him to be a man, Elise. I am willing to forgive him for what he did with my bank account. But he can't be a coward and sit in the car.”
Elise glanced at Nick. If her son had heard his father,
he gave no indication. He sat with his earbuds plugged firmly in his ears, staring into nothingness.
“Where are your keys?” Randall asked.
“Where are your keys?” He held out his hand.
Elise shook her head. “I'm not giving them to you.”
Suddenly, Nick's door swung open and he stepped out, planting himself between Randall and Elise. His blond hair was longer than Randall's and he had the tall, lanky frame of adolescence, but it was clear he was his father's son.
“Stop it, Dad.”
Randall opened his mouth, then closed it. He raked his fingers through his hair. “Nick. We need to talk.”
A flush burned along Nick's jaw. “I already said I was sorry.”
Randall sized him up. “I know. We need to talk about the trip.”
“I'm not going.”
“I told you that this was part of the deal. You can pay back what you owe me by crewing on the boat.”
Nick grabbed his duffel bag out of the backseat of the car. He shoved his hand in a side pocket and pulled out a stack of bills. “Here's your money.”
Randall unfolded the wad and briskly counted the amount. Six hundred and thirty-five dollars. “Where did you get this?” His tone was casual, but the tension in his face revealed his anger.
Nick's chin rose. “I earned it.”
“I worked at the golf club.”
Randall's gaze whipped back to Elise. She nodded.
“Did your mother give you any of this?” Randall demanded.
Nick crossed his arms. “I earned it myself.”
“Is that true, Elise?” Randall's eyes drilled into hers.
She forced her gaze to remain steady. “Yes.”
“Why won't you believe me?” Nick asked. But they all knew why.
He'd lied before.
A lawn mower ripped to life. Nick hoisted his bag on his shoulder and spun on his heel. “Have a good trip, Dad.” He headed up the walkway to the house.
“Nick, come on,” Randall said. His eyes, so piercing just moments before, were dull with hurt.
Nick clomped up the porch stairs.
“Nick, you promised,” Randall called after him.
That stopped Nick. He turned. Anger and hurt vibrated from his eyes. “I changed my mind.” He looked at Elise for help. “I'm going to camp instead.”
Randall's eyes narrowed. He turned to Elise. “When did you arrange this?”
“On our way here.”
Randall gave Nick a hard look. Nick shifted his bag on his shoulder. “Why didn't you call me?”
“Because I knew you wouldn't listen to me, Dad.”
“We made a deal,” Randall repeated.
made a deal.” Nick grabbed the handle to the screen door and pulled it open. It squeaked rustily. “Anyway, I paid you back.” He stepped through the doorway.
“Nick, wait!” Randall said. Nick slammed the door shut behind him.
Elise watched this drama playing out, wishing she had half the guts of her son.
Randall spun around and glared at Elise. “Congratulations. You've achieved what you set out to do.”
She tried not to shrivel under the heat of his anger. “What do you mean by that?”
“You've turned him against me.” There was stark pain under the accusation.
“Why are you always blaming me?” He was the one who moved to a different province. How did he expect to have a relationship with his kids?
“Because you're the one who divided this family,” he said.
She flinched, unprepared for that attack. These arguments had been laid to rest years ago, but clearly the sex had raised them from the dead. She lifted her chin. “Only because you stopped being a part of it.”
“Don't blame me for your infidelity, Elise. It was you who ruined our marriage. Remember that.” He stalked away to his car.
“Don't worry. You'll never let me forget,” she called after him. He ignored her. Just as he always did. They'd start having an argument and he'd turn on his heel and walk out.
Not this time. He would not get the last word this time.
The trauma of the past two months was too fresh in her mind. He'd opened a door she'd thought had been sealed shut. She'd glimpsed a futureâhad allowed herself to hope. And then found out in a phone call that she'd been foolish. Naive. Unwanted. The loss had been huge. The procedure worse than she imagined.
He was not going to get the final word.
She hurried after him. He was unlocking his door. She grabbed his arm. “I may have ruined our marriage, but you've had your revenge.”
He threw her an angry look and climbed into the immaculate, shining tribute to his manhood.
She rushed around to the driver's side and pounded on the window.
He rolled it down. Anger, impatience, irritationâthat one really got herâflashed across his face. “I heard you.”
That's what he thought. He always claimed he heard what she said, but he didn't. He didn't hear the pain, the need, the hurt. Or he chose to ignore it.
Anger surged inside her. “If you heard me, then why don't you answer me!”
“Because I don't want to talk about it. What happened in Toronto was a big mistake. But it's over. You have to move on, Elise.”
“How easy for you to say.” Her voice trembled with rage. “How fucking easy for you to sit there in your new carâit is new, isn't it, darling, and yet you claim you can't afford more child supportâand tell me that it's over. You've moved on. Be a big girl, Elise, and suck it up.”
He stared at her. She knew he was waiting for her to vent her rage, move away from the car in a sobbing heap, and he'd roar down the street like a bat out of hell. Same old, same old.
Her hands gripped the edge of the lowered window. Her fingertips dug into fine leather, her palms pressed against hot chrome. “Let me tell you exactly what I had
to suck up, Randall. Or should I say, suck out.” She took a deep breath, swallowed. “Your baby.” She'd meant to end it on a bitter, angry note, but it came out pathetically weak.
She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. Randall stared at her. Then he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the headrest. “Jesus,” he murmured. His eyes opened again and she saw his shock, his anger. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“I couldn't.” She straightened and turned away, not wanting him to see the tears that sprang into her eyes. The pain of his abandonment had never eased. It seemed half her life had been spent getting over his desertion of herâfirst emotional, then physical, and finally both.
He got out of the car, his body rigid behind her. “I deserved to know.”
He'd fucked her, knocked her up, left herâand then insisted he
She couldn't answer. Anger swelled her throat.
He added, “Is that why you asked for additional child support?”
. She spun around. The words jerked out of her throat. “No! The money was for Nick and Lucy.”
His eyes flickered over her abdomen. She was grateful her arms were hugging her waist. He said softly, “But you said it was mine.” He paused. “Wasn't it?”