Booksellers’ Best Award
Carol Award finalist
Daphne du Maurier Award finalist
Revell, ©2014, ISBN 978-0800721251
(Book 3—Private Justice)
For three years, Kate Marshall has been mourning the loss of her husband and four-year-old son in a boating accident. But when she spots a familiar-looking child on a mall escalator, she’s convinced it’s her son. With police skeptical of her story, she turns to private investigator Connor Sullivan for help. As the former Secret Service agent digs into the case, the boating “accident” begins to look more and more suspicious. But if Kate’s son is alive, someone is intent on keeping him hidden—and may go to lethal lengths to protect a sinister secret.
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A riveting narrative arc with multiple plot twists and turns give fans of RITA Award winner and Christy Award finalist Hannon more of what they expect from her high-octane stories of suspense. Newcomers will rush through the mind-bending tale and delight in the lushly developed characters and striking scenes.
A romantic suspense that pounds your pulse at the same time it sets your heart a-flutter with a developing romance.
A story of hope, desperation, romance, and redemption that will have readers eagerly turning each page.
Yet another in the line of terrific reads by this author…likeable characters and a plot rich with suspense.
A stranger was coming up her driveway.
Decorative tube of icing poised over the cake, Kate Marshall froze as the crunch of gravel outside the open windows at the front of the house stopped by the porch.
Definitely not John. He would have headed straight to the detached garage in back, as usual. Besides, he and Kevin never cut their Wednesday fishing outings short. And none of their friends would make a social call at this hour of the morning.
A car door slammed, and she finished the last swirl of red icing on the y in birthday, frowning as a tingle of apprehension skittered through her. How silly was that? This was Hilton, New York, not New York City. A peaceful village of six thousand people. Just because she was a big-city girl who’d never quite acclimated to the solitude of their five-acre spread on the outskirts of town didn’t mean it was unsafe.
Still, as the doorbell rang, she grabbed her cell out of her purse and slipped it in the pocket of her jeans—just in case.
But as she entered the living room and caught a glimpse of the dark-colored cruiser through the front window, her step faltered.
There would be no need for a 911 call.
The police were already here.
A sudden swirl of memories kaleidoscoped through her mind, catapulting her back sixteen years, to her eighteenth summer. A porch swing . . . a tall glass of tangy lemonade . . . a heart-melting romance novel. All the makings of a perfect June day.
Until a police car pulled up and a grim-faced officer emerged.
Two minutes later, as the man informed her and her mother that a faulty construction elevator at a job site had plunged her architect father three stories to his death, the perfect day had ended.
But history didn’t repeat itself.
God wouldn’t do that to her.
Reining in her burgeoning panic, she breathed in, then out, and forced her feet to carry her across the living room.
Through the art-glass sidelight next to the front door, she had a distorted view of the uniformed man on the other side. He appeared to be young . . . and his expression was serious.
Her heart lurched.
Fingers fumbling the lock, she opened the door. “May I help you?” Her rote words seemed to come from a distance, leaving a hollow echo in her ears.
The man clasped his hands behind his back and planted his feet shoulder-width apart, in military at-ease position.
But he didn’t look at ease.
His posture was rigid, his features taut.
“I’m Trooper Peyton, New York State Police. Did your husband go fishing in Braddock Bay this morning?”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”
The denial screamed through her mind as she clutched the edge of the door, her slippery fingers leaving a smear of icing on the shiny white woodwork.
It looked like blood.
She tore her gaze away from the crimson smudge, forced her brain to process the man’s statement . . . and came to the only possible conclusion.
John was hurt.
Otherwise, he would have called her himself.
Cold fingers squeezed her heart as she choked out the question she didn’t want to ask. “My son . . . is he . . . is Kevin hurt too?”
The uniformed man frowned. “Your son?”
She furrowed her own brow. “Yes. My husband and son were together. Kevin’s f-four.” Her voice hitched on the last word.
The officer reached for his radio. “Let me call that in. The last I heard, they were only looking for a man.”
The room began to spin, and she grabbed the door frame with her free hand. Darkness licked at her soul, snuffing out the light like storm clouds advancing on the sun. “What do you mean, looking for?”
His features softened as his radio crackled to life. “I’m sorry, ma’am. All we have so far is an overturned boat and an adult life jacket.”
Adult life jacket.
As the words reverberated in her mind, she shook her head, trying to clear the muddle from her brain.
That couldn’t be right.
“Wait.” She plucked at the man’s sleeve. “You shouldn’t have found a loose life jacket. My husband and son always wore their vests.”
He held up a finger and angled away to speak into the radio, conveying the news about Kevin in a crisp, official tone before he turned back to her.
“If you could give me a description of what your husband and son were wearing, ma’am, it would be very helpful to the search and rescue team.”
He wasn’t listening to her.
She stepped closer. In-your-face close. “Did you hear what I said? They always wore their life jackets. Always! John promised me they would, and he never broke his promises. There shouldn’t be a loose life jacket. And where are they?” Her pitch rose as hysteria nipped at the edges of her voice.
“I don’t know, ma’am, but we’re doing everything we can to find them.” The officer’s reassuring tone did nothing to soothe her. “May I come in while I ask you a few more questions?”
She stared at him as an insulating numbness began to shroud her, weighing down her arms and legs, dulling her senses. “You expect me to just sit here while my husband and son are missing?”
“Professionals are handling the search, Mrs. Marshall. The most useful thing you can do is give us a description and answer some questions.”
It wasn’t enough.
But how else could she contribute? With her fear of the water, she’d hinder more than help if she showed up at the bay.
Closing her eyes, she sucked in a breath—and sent a silent, desperate plea to the almighty.
The officer took her arm. Wondering, perhaps, if she was going to cave?
Because even as he guided her toward the couch, even as she prepared to answer his questions, she knew with soul-searing certainty that nothing she told him was going to change the outcome on this day intended to celebrate the beginning of her husband’s thirty-sixth year.
And she also knew there would be no more happy birthdays in this house.
Three Years Later
Kate sniffed the enticing aromas wafting her way from the food court, transferred her shopping bag from one hand to the other, and checked her watch. Nope. She was already behind schedule, and being late for her one-thirty client wasn’t an option. No lunch today.
So what else was new?
On the plus side, maybe she could swing by Starbucks after dinner and apply those saved calories to the ultimate summer indulgence—a double chocolaty chip frappuccino . . . heavy on the whip.
A wry grin tugged at her lips as she lengthened her stride. Like that was going to happen. If this day followed her typical pattern, she’d be so exhausted by the time she got home she’d opt for a quick omelet or nuke a frozen dinner, then fall into bed—and the oblivion of sleep. But better catatonic slumber than nights spent watching the LED display on her bedside clock mark the slow-motion passing of middle-of-the-night minutes.
Cutting a path straight toward the escalator that led down to the first level of the mall, she averted her head as she passed the Mrs. Fields shop. Tempting, but not healthy.
When her stomach rumbled, however, her course somehow drifted to the right.
Maybe one cookie.
Two minutes later, cookie in hand, she took a large bite and closed her eyes as the warm chocolate chips melted on her tongue.
And far tastier than the turkey sandwich in the fridge at work—the lunch she would have been eating if she hadn’t volunteered last night to exchange her neighbor’s defective heating pad during her lunch hour. But with the older woman’s arthritis acting up . . . with the sweltering heat of a St. Louis July taking a toll on seniors who ventured out . . . with West County Center just ten minutes away from her office . . . how could she ignore the prodding of her conscience to do a good deed?
Besides, she might not be as old as her neighbor, but she knew what it was like to be hurting . . . and alone . . . and in desperate need of a respite from pain.
The chocolate lost some of its sweetness, but she finished the last bite of cookie anyway and picked up her pace toward the escalator. She was not going to let melancholy thoughts ruin this moment of pleasure. She’d done that far too often over the past few years—as her mother never hesitated to remind her during her occasional calls from the West Coast. Take what life hands you and get on with it, that was Angela Stewart’s motto. And that philosophy had served her well as she’d forged her executive career. Unlike her daughter, she hadn’t needed pills to get through her first year of widowhood.
Then again, she hadn’t lost a child too.
Kate shoved the chocolate-smeared paper napkin in a trash can and straightened her shoulders. So she wasn’t made of the same tough cloth as her mother. So she had a softer heart. But she’d survived the hard times and gotten her act together eventually, hadn’t she? And that soft heart had turned out to be an asset in her counseling work.
A horde of Friday lunchtime shoppers jostled her as she approached the escalator, and she tightened her grip on the shopping bag. Good heavens, you’d think it was the day-after-Christmas sale.
Leading with her shoulder, she inserted herself in the middle of the surging throng, then maneuvered through the clusters of chattering women to claim a riser and began her descent.
To think some people found shopping fun...
Her errand had gone smoothly, though. Assuming she got out of the parking garage without delay, she should be back at the office in time to grab a bottle of water, touch up her lipstick, and run a comb through her hair before—
“. . . a poppysicle?”
As the eager, childish voice carried over the background hum of mall noise, the air whooshed out of her lungs, and she grabbed the railing.
The only child she’d ever heard use that term was Kevin.
And that voice . . . it sounded like his.
How could that be?
Whipping toward the adjacent ascending escalator, she scanned the crowd. Several risers above her, moving farther away by the second, was a youngster about six or seven with hair the hue of ripening wheat.
The same color as hers.
The same color as her son’s.
“Kevin?” Her incredulous whisper was lost in the cavernous echo of the mall.
She tried again, raising her voice. “Kevin!”
The boy angled her way. She caught a profile. Then a full face. As they made eye contact, as he frowned and cocked his head, her heart stalled.
He looked just how she would have expected Kevin to look when he was seven.
As they stared at each other, the noise in the mall receded. Movement slowed. Everything faded from her peripheral vision. Only the little boy’s face registered.
Dear God, is that . . . ?
(Warning: Contains Spoilers!)
- After a tragic boating incident, Kate turns to valium to help her cope—and ends up addicted. Do you know anyone who suffers from addiction? What are some ways friends and family members can help a person beat this kind of dependence? What are some of the coping mechanisms you employ to get through difficult times?
- Connor carries a burden of guilt for his inattentiveness to his former girlfriend. Do you think this is merited? Do you know anyone who puts work above everything else? Is this healthy? Why or why not?
- Greg was once a church-going man but blames God for all the bad things that happened in his life. How might you respond to people who claim God doesn’t listen or answer their prayers?
- Greg went to extraordinary effort and expense to try and extend his son’s life—though David’s quality of life was eroding day by day. Would you have done the same thing? Why or why not?
- How did you feel about the villain of this book? Did you have any sympathy for him, despite his terrible actions? Why or why not?
- At one point in the book, Connor says that coincidences are small miracles in which God chooses to remain anonymous. Do you believe that? Talk about a coincidence in your life that somehow seemed to be more than that.
- Diane was an abused wife who finally found the courage to walk away. Why do you think some women stay in abusive relationships? If you knew someone in this position, what kind of support might you offer to help them protect themselves?
- Connor begins to fall for Kate very early in the story. Besides the fact that she’s attractive, what are some of the qualities that made her appeal to him?
- For her part, Kate initially feels guilty about the attraction she feels toward Connor. She thinks it’s disloyal to her husband, who she still loves. Do you think she should have had any misgivings? Why or why not?
- The story ends with Kate and Kevin reuniting. By the epilogue, it’s clear they’ve made a lot of progress in establishing a relationship. What sorts of challenges do you think they encountered in those six months? How would you have explained what happened to Kevin if you were in Kate’s position?
- Connor, Dev and Cal are clearly an excellent team. Why do you think they function so well together? Cite some specific qualities that can enhance partnerships of any kind.
- Have you ever had any experience with a serious childhood illness? How did it affect everyone involved? Why are diseases that involve children especially heartrending? How would you counsel a parent of such a child?
- Connor’s breakup with his previous girlfriend is a wake-up call, and he totally changes his life. Why does it often take a dramatic incident to compel us to examine our priorities? Have you ever experienced a similar epiphany in your own life?
- Who was your favorite character in the book? Why? Which character did you find the most interesting? Why?
- Pauline Andrews doesn’t have a large role, but she’s a vibrant octogenarian. Do you know any older people like her? How do they help dispel the stereotypes of aging?
- Did you find Deceived suspenseful? Did you think the plot was well constructed and credible, and the characters believable? Why or why not?
- Talk about your impressions of this book from a literary standpoint—its strengths and weaknesses. Cite specific examples. If you were the author, would you have done anything differently?