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Her friends were dying and Megan Brooks knew she was next. She needed answers. And Alec Black, the sheriff of Whisper Lake Crossing, Maine, the man who had broken her heart twenty years ago, was the only person in the world who could give them to her. Yet she never imagined their meeting would be like this—the two of them standing face-to-face in the middle of a frozen Maine lake, ankle deep in snow.
People changed in twenty years. Certainly this man had. He was only nineteen when she had last seen him, and she a year younger. They had met when she was a camp counselor and he was a lifeguard at a summer Christian camp for kids. She had just graduated from high school and he had completed one year of college. Alec's brother had been in her high school class—and it was Bryan who had suggested that Megan and Alec meet in the first place. Even though Megan had dated Alec's brother briefly, he had seemed ecstatic when Alec and Megan fell in love.
All during the fall they saw each other. He was in his second year of college and she was in her first. They became inseparable.
By Christmas she was pregnant.
They decided to keep it a secret. They would get married immediately. Although the pregnancy was a mistake, they loved each other desperately. They were in love enough to make it work. Even though Alec's parents and the grandmother who raised Megan had wanted them to wait, they wouldn't listen. They planned their wedding for Valentine's Day. Megan's baby was due in July.
It was to be a small but lovely church wedding with only four friends in their wedding party. It was going to be perfect.
But the wedding never happened. All of that was twenty years ago.
Alec's eyes were the same—large and brown and expressive. However he now wore rimless glasses. The ends of his hair, which stuck out from under his knitted watch cap, were darker than she remembered. And his hair was now shorter. His hair was the first thing she had noticed about him when they'd met. In those days his hair hung long and sun-bleached in his eyes. She remembered the way he would brush it off his face with both hands.
From the first moment she saw him, she was aware of everything—the way her hair was, the way she looked in her one-piece swimsuit, self-conscious, knowing his eyes were on her from atop his lifeguard perch. And they were.
She wondered now if his hair would be as soft in her fingers as she remembered.
"Hello," he said uncertainly. "Pretty cold weather. You just out for a walk on the lake?"
He didn't know who she was. This was the sort of thing you would say to a stranger. She knew she had changed. In twenty years she had lost weight. "Pleasingly plump" was how her grandmother had described her back then. She had also exchanged the big, round, plastic glasses she wore for violet-tinted contact lenses. Plus she had cut her long "dirty-blond hair"—also a label from her grandmother—and now it was auburn in color and cheek length.
An attempt to remake herself? Possibly.
Flecks of snow landed on the shoulders of his bulky blue jacket. Up around his collar peeked a layer of red fleece. She fought the urge to reach up and straighten his collar.
"Hello." She looked directly into his eyes. Her voice was hoarse, a whisper. She needed to remember why she was here. This wasn't about them. This was about her friends. People had died. She could be next. So could he, for that matter. Unless he was the one responsible for the murders?
He peered at her, took off his glasses, folded them and put them in his pocket. He ran his hand over his face and squinted at her, then turned away. Then back at her. "Sorry," he said. "I just…You…For a moment…you looked like someone I used to know."
"I am someone you used to know."
She could see recognition dawn slowly. His eyes went wide and he took a step back, staring, not letting his eyes leave her. "Meggie?"
She nodded, winced slightly at his old pet name for her.
He came close to her, and she felt all the power of him again, a strength that had kept her rapt and spellbound twenty years before. Control. She needed to remain in control. It was twenty years later and she wouldn't be hurt again.
She said, "I came to see you. I need to talk with you."
"Meggie. You look so…"
"Different? I am different, Alec." She took a breath before she could continue. "I drove up yesterday. I got here last night. Someone at the sheriff's office told me it was your day off."
"After all this time…"
"How did you know where to find me?"
"A woman in your office said you like to ice fish on your day off. She told me where."
He ran a hand across his chin, still looking at her. "No, I mean Whisper Lake Crossing. How did you know I was here?"
"I looked you up online." Megan, who worked as a self-employed Web designer, had kept track of Alec over the years. She knew that he'd been the sheriff here for six years. She knew that he'd never married.
She continued, "I needed to come and see you because of Sophia Wlcox and Jennifer Moore. Do you remember them? From the wedding party?" She clamped her mouth shut. Had she really said the words wedding party? She had vowed she would not bring that up.
She shifted her position in the snow. Her toes were beginning to feel cold through her thin leather boots. "They died in separate car accidents last month. First, Sophia in California. Her brakes failed and she went down over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. Then exactly a week later Jennifer died in Augusta. Here in Maine. Her brakes failed in precisely the same manner as Sophia's brakes and she went off an embankment to her death. I don't believe they were accidents…." She stopped, aware that she was now giving voice to her fears.
"Meggie." His voice seemed to have broken, or maybe it was the sudden gust of wind that had carried it from her. Seeing him in person was reawakening things in herself which had lain dormant for twenty years—things she had not allowed herself to feel. Why had she thought coming here would be a good idea? What could he do?
"I know all about those so-called accidents," he said. "You're right. I've been wondering about that very thing."
"I think I'm next," she said.
"You might be."
This startled her. She drew a breath and looked up at him. What did he know?
What happened next was so sudden it barely had time to register. His head jerked up. His eyebrows scrunched together as he looked at something beyond and behind her. Suddenly he reached forward, grabbed her shoulders with one arm and, with the other, he held her around the waist, brought her to him and dropped them both to the cold, snow-covered surface of the lake.
"Stay down," he said into her ear.
"Wha…?" she managed.
"Someone. With a gun. On the shore," he breathed. His mouth was close to her ear. He held her firmly.
It was then that she heard the sound of shots.
Minutes passed. Alec flattened himself against her and held his arm across her back. She felt the keen alertness in him. It was unbearable being this close to him.
More shots. Someone was after her! Someone knew she had come here! Long minutes passed, until finally, he crouched up beside her, his gun in his hand. "Stay down!" he hissed.
"Okay," she whispered. He didn't have to worry. She had no intention of getting up.
In the next minutes she felt or heard something that was like a thunder underneath them. In one horrific instant she thought the lake was cracking. She had visions of them escaping the shooter only to be plunged into the icy depths of Whisper Lake.
"The ice," she said. "It's breaking up!"
Alec brought his face close to hers and put a finger to her lips. "Shh. The ice is fine," he said. "It's just settling. It does that. It means nothing."
After several minutes of quiet, he got up but kept low. When she attempted to do the same, he cautioned her with his hand to stay down. She placed her gloved palms together and lay her face against the ice and watched him crouch toward the shore.
The cold and wet ice was seeping up her pant legs and inside her jacket and soon she was shivering, whether from cold or fear she didn't know. Probably fear. Someone had killed her friends and that same someone had followed her here! And she had no idea why.
It all had something to do with the card. As soon as she was handed that card when she had walked into the coffee shop this morning, she should have turned around and driven right back to her Baltimore home.
The shooting seemed to have stopped. She looked up. Alec was scanning the shoreline, frowning. Megan rose to her knees. "Are you sure you saw someone?" she asked. "Maybe it was a car backfiring," she said.
He shook his head. "I saw someone. With a gun."
His gaze seemed to settle on her for a long time. He pulled off his toque and gave it to her. "You need a hat. You're so cold, Meggie."
"I'm Megan," she whispered. "I go by Megan now." She pronounced it Mee-gan. She pulled Alec's toque firmly down around her ears. It was still warm from his head and it smelled like him.
There was a hint of a smile on his face. "Okay then, Megan…" He emphasized the name, elongating the e. "We have to get off this lake. Where's your car?"
"I parked it up by the town dock."
He said, "My stool and fishing gear are over there. I'm going to grab them and then we're going to make tracks toward your car."
"What about your car?"
"I live in town. I walked here."
The light snow had stopped and ice crystals gave the air a sheen. As she walked in step with Alec, the events of the past two weeks came to her in sharp clarity.
Even though it had been a long time since the two had corresponded, it had been shock to learn that her school friend Sophia had died. She managed to find the e-mail address for Sophia's sister, Pam, and conveyed her sympathy. Pam was pleased to hear from Megan after all these years, but wrote back that the entire thing was "fishy." When the family was finally able to retrieve her car from the Pacific Ocean, they determined that the brake cables had been worn to the point of being nonexistent. This was so unlike Sophia, Pam wrote. Sophia always kept her things in pristine condition.
The police were looking into it, Pam had said. But they had no leads. Sophia left behind a husband and two children. Sophia was to have been maid of honor at Megan's wedding to Alec.
Seven days later when her other friend Jennifer had died in the same kind of accident in Augusta, Maine, Megan began to be afraid. Jennifer was to have been her bridesmaid.
"They've gone," he said. "Whoever it was."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"I saw someone get into a truck. We need to hurry, though." She kept in step with him. "Megan, do you have your keys?"
She pushed shaky, cold fingers into her pocket and handed him the keys to her Toyota. He could drive. She didn't think she would be quite capable.
"We've got to move," he said. "We're okay now. He's gone. But we've got to move fast. We have to get off the lake. We're sitting ducks out here."
She found it hard to keep up with his long strides. About a dozen feet from the shoreline she felt her feet slip out from under her. Before she fell, Alec reached one strong arm over and caught her. When they reached the shoreline, he was still holding on to her tightly.
All of this closeness to a man who had hurt her so profoundly was sending her very being into confusion. His touch was melting feelings long dead and cold within her.
"Alec, I have to ask you something. Why did you leave?" she said as they reached the car.
He didn't turn to her and she wondered if he hadn't heard her. Perhaps not. Perhaps she only whispered it. She didn't repeat the question. But would she finally learn why he had walked away from her twenty years before?