Read an Excerpt
One thing about starting the day with a burglarythe rest of the day just had to be better.
Dr. Kate Mathers wearily leaned over her desk to close down the computer for the night, turned to grab her purse from a file cabinet drawer and surveyed her office.
This morning it had been in shambleswindow glass shattered and scattered across the carpet, papers strewn, her late grandmother's stained glass lamp lying in rainbow shards on her desk. A small figurine of a golden retriever, broken.
Even now, the overhead lights picked out the tiny glittering fragments she'd missed. Precious fragments that brought back such memories
At least the intruders hadn't bothered the animals in the back rooms, thank God. The veterinary hospital's patients and the boarders were all in roomy cages or pens, and would have been defenseless.
A random act?
The sheriff had certainly supported that theory, though perhaps he had a vested interest in trying to make her believe it.
She fervently hoped he was right, because the alternative was far more frightening. If he was wrong, the threats were escalating. And one day, it wouldn't be just intimidating phone calls and anonymous letters and property damage.
It could become something far more personal.
"You're sure you're okay?" Amy, her twenty-something vet tech, hovered at the door of the office and planted her hands firmly on her slender hips. "I mean, I can stay longer if you don't want to be alone."
An image of the pretty, waiflike blonde as her protector made Kate smile. She waved a hand toward the back door, hoping she looked more confident than she felt. "I'm fine. And I'll be right on yourheels, anyway. Casey's plane arrives in less than an hour."
"Cool. Tell her to call me, okay? Maybe we can hang out while she's on break." Hitching the shoulder strap of her purse higher, the girl glanced down the hall. "I locked the front door and checked the windows. Didn't set the security system, though."
"I'll take care of it when I leave, so you can get to your softball game. Thanks again for all your help with the cleanup, by the way."
Amy hesitated, worrying at her lower lip with her teeth, then disappeared. A moment later, the back door creaked open and slammed shut.
Kate took a final walk through the clinic and double-checked the doors and windows, knowing that Amy had taken care of them all, but needing that reassurance. The sheriff had surveyed the damage and taken notes, though his vague promises had done little to dispel her worries.
The lab and pharmacy had been thoroughly ransacked. Dozens of pharmaceutical bottles had been stolen or broken, and the perpetrator had made off with boxes of syringes and needles. A careless thief at thatone who'd left a trail of supplies between the jimmied back door of the clinic and a vehicle waiting in the parking lot.
And now, the idiot was probably shooting up some veterinary drugs that could do him an incredible amount of harm. And if he didn't keel over, he might well be back.
Maybe with friends.
Possibly armed, and certainly dangerous even if he wasn't.
Then again, the perpetrator could have been someone entirely different bent on reinforcing a warning that her husband, Jared, still refused to heed.
The thought made Kate shudder. How often did Amy stay late, working on the books? Or come in early to feed the animals and clean pens? Casey's former high school classmate still seemed more like a second daughter than an employee, and she wouldn't stand a chance against an intruder. Jared had promised
With a snort, Kate strode to the back door, locked the shiny new dead bolt, and walked to her black Bravada.
He'd promised to take care of a lot of things this past six months. Estimates on a new security system and steel doors for the clinic, for one thing. Help with the plans to remodel their kitchen at home. Research on hotel and air reservations for the tropical vacation they'd talked about for the past year. The sort of tasks she usually left up to him, because as a lawyer he'd always been much more thorough at gathering and analyzing such information.
But he'd been as busy with his practice as she'd been with hers, and now that he'd also set up a Granite County free legal aid storefront, he had even less time. Late nights, working weekends. When had they last sat down together for a decent supper?
But her clinic couldn't wait any longer. And now with trouble brewing over some of the pro bono cases he'd taken on against powerful local business owners, she was concerned this break-in might be part of a backlash and she needed the security upgrade as soon as possible.
On impulse, she tried his cell phone once more. Again, the call routed immediately into his voice mail. Answer your phone, Jared. Where are you?
A wisp of dark thoughts from the past taunted her. Of a time when rumors had flown about an affair, and whispers had followed in her wake when she walked down the street.
Jared had furiously denied the accusations and moved out.
She brushed the painful memories aside. Everything was fine. It had been fine for years, and dredging up old hurts never did anyone a bit of good. In the end, she and Jared had reached a truce of sorts, each carefully avoiding past wounds. Each carefully, explicitly explaining daily schedules and destinations in a painfully casual way for months, just trying to move on.
Trust was such a fragile giftso easily shattered, so difficult to rebuild. Surely he wouldn't risk destroying what they'd salvaged of their marriage.
She slid a Jack Johnson CD into the car stereo and settled back for the hour drive to the Madison airport, lifting a hand to wave at familiar faces as she cruised through town.
With just twenty thousand residents and a single vet clinic, many of the Lost River locals were clients, or members of her church, or had served on various PTA committees with her over the years. Small-town connections that warmed her still, even after years of living away from the anonymity of Minneapolis.
The touristy shops and coffee houses on Main Street gave way to the four blocks of grand old homes, then a newer subdivision followed by the grocery, several gas stations and a Pamida discount store. Beyond that, the road curved through meadows and stands of timber on its way out to the four-lane highway leading to Madison.
She smiled, humming along with the music, her heart lifting at the thought of Casey coming home at last after her first year of college. The house would feel alive again, with her daughter's music shaking the rafters and her friends crowding into the family room on Friday nights, the scent of buttery popcorn and warm brownies filling the air.
A small, insistent voice nagged at Kate over the odd catch in Casey's voice during their last phone call, and the long, uneasy silence before she'd insisted it was nothing. She just had a cold. She was just tired. The reasons spoken with a hesi-tance that had never been there before.
But maybe she was being truthful. Maybe she was tired, needing to come home to just relax before starting her summer job. If there was anything wrong, Casey would've shared it, like always. Wouldn't she?
Four miles down the interstate, Kate topped a low rise. Drew in a sharp breath, and slammed on the brakes. Traffic had been light, but here it was at a standstillwith at least fifty vehicles backed up behind a melee of flashing lights and emergency vehicles. Figures moved rapidly between the patrol cars and two ambulances, then one ambulance took off, made a U-turn across the grass into the northbound lanes and sped away, its siren screaming.
Five minutes later the other ambulance left. Silently. No lights, no sirens.
And then the traffic started to edge forward, narrowing to single file on the left-hand shoulder of the road, urged on by a harried officer windmill-ing his arm.
The crumpled roofline of a partially burned white SUV, a mangled ski rack hanging like tinsel over one edge, was just visible in the opposite ditch as she passed.
It was June. Most outdoors enthusiasts had switched to bike racks by now. But Jared hadn't, and he drove a white Navigator.
Kate's heart did a slow-motion somersault in her chest, then settled into place. It couldn't be him. He'd gone to a meeting north of town tonight. The opposite direction. And accidents always happened to someone else. Names in the paper that one didn't recognize, poor souls caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But ten minutes later her cell phone ranga call forwarded by her answering serviceand the earth jerked out of its orbit and tumbled crazily into space as she listened. Jared. A wreck out on the highway just south of town. Get to the hospital as soon as you can.
But the caller from the hospital couldn'tor wouldn'tgive any further details over the phone.
One ambulance had sped back to town on a hot run. The other one no longer had any need for lights and sirens. Which one had held her husband?
Numb, her heart racing, Kate pulled to the side of the highway and speed-dialed her friend Deanna, who lived outside of Madison, to ask her to pick up Casey at the airport, then she took a deep, steadying breath and tried Jared's mother, but Sylvia didn't answer.
Kate pulled back onto the highway and took the next exit, then started back to Lost River twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. It can't be It can't be.
Whatever problems they'd had over the years, she'd been sure they would grow old together. Enjoy grandchildren together. Tears burned her eyes as regrets swamped her.
They'd made so many mistakes with each other. Foolish mistakes, though everything had seemed so perfect once upon a time. Surely it couldn't be too late to finally make things right.
He'll be okay. He has to be okay. She gripped the steering wheel tighter to still her shaking hands and forced herself to think back to the time when their future together had been so unexpected, such a bright and special gift .
"Frat parties are not my thing," Kate shouted above the blaring, pulsing beat of the latest Tina Turner hit. "So I'm going back to the library."
"Waitwe just got here, and it's almost over, anyway." Deanna, also a sophomore vet student, laughed and dug an elbow in Kate's ribs. "Just look at those guys over there in the corner. I want the blond one. Red sweatshirt, torn jeans. He is hot."
Kate rolled her eyes and started edging backward toward the door, but the crush of bodies gyrating to the music stopped her progress. "This isn't exactly a supermarket, Dee, and I've got a pathology test tomorrow."
"Which you'll ace as always. Why worry?"
"You know why. If my GPA drops, my grant is gone. You'll get your DVM and I'll stay a waitress until I'm too old to carry trays."
"Not hardly, sweetie. C'monthere's a guy you oughta meet, and I get dibs on the blonde standing next to him." Deanna grabbed Kate's arm and pulled her forward, toward a group of guys in the corner. "Give me five minutes, and you can leave. Promise."
"Right," Kate muttered. She reluctantly followed rather than make a scene in front of far too many sorority girls blessed with good looks, too much money and the ability to deliver a perfect, withering glance at all of the lesser mortals on the planet. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks, she reminded herself sharply.
But it did, deep down. In class, wearing cast-off clothes and ratty sneakers, she blended in with most of the other students. But here, glittery dresses and sassy little skirts shimmered and teased, while she'd only been able to pull together black linen slacks and a black sweater from her closet, with a sparkly silver scarf at her throat.
Deanna came to a halt and grinned up at her quarry, her expression at once flirtatious and innocent. Apparently the perfect blend for blondy, because his smile widened as he looked down at her.
They immediately fell into a deep conversation over the upcoming homecoming dance, which gave Kate the perfect chance to escape whatever introduction Deanna had planned. She turned away and stopped dead.
And stared at quite possibly the most handsome guy she'd ever seen.
He was tall and broad-shouldered, his well-muscled chest straining at the black polo shirt he wore, though he obviously didn't care much about the impression he made. He wore faded jeans and boots, and he'd slung an old leather jacket over his back, suspended by a hooked finger.