Read an Excerpt
A Season Of Forgiveness
By Brenda Coulter
Steeple HillCopyright © 2007 Brenda Coulter
All right reserved.
From the corner of one eye,Victoria Talcott glimpsed a flash of blue steel as Bill Kincaid pressed the cold barrel of his gun harder against her temple, forcing her head toward her right shoulder. He had already struck her with the weapon, slamming it so hard against the side of her head that Tori had seen stars and tasted bile. The blow had knocked her to her knees, but Bill had hauled her up again and shoved her against the wall, extinguishing Tori’s last hope that she might somehow survive her brother-in-law’s murderous rage.
“You think she’s worth dying for?” Bill sneered.
I’d save you, Rinny. Tori wondered why she wasn’t seeing her whole life flash before her eyes; why her swirling thoughts were instead coalescing on a single incident from her childhood. As the memory flooded even the most remote corners of her awareness, she felt hot sunshine prick the bare skin of her shoulders, heard the gentle lapping of lake water against a pea-gravel beach, saw brilliant shards of light glint off distant waves.
I’d die before I’d ever let anything bad happen to you. On that summer afternoon at their grandparents’ place on a lake in Indiana, Tori and Corinne, ages thirteen and eleven, had stood hip-deep in the water, cool mud squishing between theirtoes. Although forbidden to venture further without adult supervision, they’d launched themselves in twin belly flops. With skinny arms windmilling, they splashed toward the rickety diving platform at the outer limit of the swimming area. When they sat on the weather-roughened wood and Corinne, her arms prickly with goose bumps, asked what would happen if she got a cramp on the way back to shore, Tori had answered that as long as she drew breath, she would keep her sister safe.
The words might have been uttered with childish bravado, but right now Tori was proving them true.
Lord, just let it be over quickly.
After he finished with her, Bill would tear her apartment to pieces looking for a scrap of paper with an address and phone number on it. He’d never find one, because Tori had committed that information to memory rather than write it down. But she wanted him to look. The longer he spent searching, the better the chance he’d be caught. Then he’d be locked up for good and Corinne and the babies would be safe.
Was the door still open? Unable to move her head, Tori couldn’t be sure. She’d certainly had no opportunity to close it after Bill had shoved his way into her apartment. Had he closed it? And if he had, would anyone outside hear the gunshot?
The daughter of a cop, Tori ought to have known the answer to that last question. But she’d never seen a gun up close. Regina Talcott had carefully shielded her daughters Brenda Coulter 9
from the harsh realities of their father’s dangerous job. Even now, three years after the event that precipitated her father’s early retirement, Tori and her sister were as squeamish as their mother when it came to using words like shot and bullet wound to describe his leg injury.
In the movies, handguns made a lot of noise. Tori just hoped reality lived up to that promise because her garden apartment complex had been designed for maximum privacy. The sidewalk leading from the residents’ parking area to Tori’s front door curved past two large mounds of earth planted with evergreen shrubs that not only blocked the view of busy Chicago streets but also buffered their noise. Tori’s apartment was even more secluded than the others; it was an end unit, abutting a ravine, and the place on the other side was currently vacant. Would anyone hear the shot?
“I’ll ask you one last time.” Bill’s left hand tightened its grip on the front of Tori’s cotton sweater as he leaned closer, his bulging gray eyes just inches from hers, his stale breath fanning her face as he spoke slowly and distinctly. “Where is my wife?”
Tori pressed her lips tightly together, terrified that if she said anything at all, she might inadvertently give him a clue.
“Drop the gun.” A man’s voice, deep and authoritative, rolled in like thunder from the direction of the front door.
Tori was immediately released. As she slid to the floor, Bill swung around and fired at the intruder.
It was loud. Even louder than the scream that ripped from Tori’s throat.
The man in the doorway hesitated for an instant, staring in stunned disbelief as the gun was again leveled at him. Then he uttered a feral cry and flung himself at Bill.
Their bodies collided with a thud and both men went down hard, overturning a rocking chair. As they struggled on the bare wood floor, Tori scrambled to her feet and backed away until she felt herself flattened against a bookcase.
The gun went off again and a window exploded. This time Tori’s scream and the echoing shot were accompanied by the sound of glass clattering like hailstones on the wood floor.
As the men continued to wrestle, the gun was knocked out of Bill’s hand. It skated across polished maple and collided with Tori’s right foot. Horrified, she edged away from it.
There had to be some way she could help. She glanced wildly around the room, searching for a heavy object to hit Bill with. She didn’t have a fireplace, so there was no iron poker; and she didn’t have any big ceramic vases like people in the movies always used. All she had were books.
Her eyes lit on a large volume of Anna Karenina, ancient and clothbound, seriously heavy. She snatched it off her coffee table, gripping one narrow end with both hands. She raised it high, then took three running steps and swung with all her might at the back of Bill’s head.
At the last instant she lost her nerve and shut her eyes, but she felt the book connect with her target. Hearing an outraged “Ow!” she opened her eyes to see if her blow had knocked Bill out. It hadn’t, but he was now on his stomach, groaning as the other guy dug a knee into the middle of his back and captured his flailing arms.
Not knowing how else to help, Tori replaced the book on the table and waited. She was amazed that Bill, a big man who had played college football, was losing the wrestling match to a wiry guy who probably wasn’t even six feet tall. Less than ten years ago, Bill the Bull had been a fullback to be reckoned with. But now this lean stranger was defeating him with a series of quick, fluid, strangely beautiful moves that looked like they’d been choreographed for a scene in an action film.
At the sound of the shocked male voice, Tori’s gaze whipped to the doorway, where a second stranger now stood.
“Get the gun!” Tori’s rescuer yelled as he twisted one of Bill’s arms and neatly folded it behind the big man’s back. It was, Tori realized with an odd detachment, exactly like watching her mother tuck in the loose wings of a Thanksgiving turkey before roasting it. “Then check me for bullet holes,” the hero added with grim humor. “This jerk was shooting at me.” He fired an accusing look at Tori.
“And keep your eye on her. She packs a wallop.”
Tori opened her mouth, but was too shocked to produce any audible words.
The newcomer spotted the gun and bent to retrieve it. Straightening, he swept Tori with a look of impersonal but not unkind appraisal. “You okay?”
She nodded, but she wasn’t anywhere near okay. She felt dizzy, so she shut her eyes and concentrated on breathing deeply. When she opened her eyes a few seconds later, the man who now held the gun was pressing a cell phone to his ear. In a remarkably calm voice, he gave his name, Reid McGarry, and Tori’s address.
Bill jerked in a desperate bid to free himself. The man on top of him simply leaned forward on his knee, bringing more of his weight to bear in the center of Bill’s back. Bill groaned and went still again.
The conqueror met Tori’s shocked gaze. “I’m Sam McGarry,” he said, breathing hard. He jerked his chin in the direction of the other man, who was still speaking into the phone, but he kept his eyes on Tori. “That’s my brother, Reid. Want to tell us what’s going on here?”
“H-he was going to k-kill me.” Tori blinked in surprise as a high, squeaky voice came out of her mouth.
“Yeah, I got that part.” Sam McGarry’s thin lips quirked in a humorless smile as he pinned Tori with a cool emerald-green stare. “The question is, why?”
“My s-sister,” Tori managed through chattering teeth.
“He’s…her husband. He was t-trying to make me t-tell him where she is.”
“You didn’t tell.” The green gaze softened into one of frank admiration. “Brave lady.”
No, he was the brave one, running straight at a man who had been shooting at him. His white T-shirt was spattered with blood, but he didn’t appear to be wounded. Tori looked at Bill, whose head was turned toward her, one cheek flattened against the floor. The sight of his bloodied nose sent a frisson of pity through her, but she carefully avoided his stormy gray eyes.
Reid McGarry dropped his phone into the chest pocket of his denim shirt. “Your sister is somewhere safe, I take it?”
Tori nodded, then looked at Sam again. The men couldn’t be more than a year or two apart in age, both of them hovering somewhere close to thirty. Reid had serious hazel eyes and light brown hair in a short cut that emphasized his angular jaw. He looked sober and trustworthy, so Tori pegged him as the elder brother.
Sam had the same lean, rugged jaw, but his too-long, Brenda Coulter 13
wavy hair was lighter, streaky and sun-bleached. He was deeply tanned and had the attractive squint of a man who spent his days outdoors. His eyes sparked with suppressed excitement as he shifted his knee and bounced lightly on top of his vanquished opponent. After rushing at Bill with the grace and speed of a jaguar attacking its prey, Sam now appeared almost to be enjoying himself.
“You saved my life,” Tori murmured, dazed and dizzy.
“We could use some duct tape,” Reid observed when Bill put up another halfhearted struggle and was quickly subdued.
Tori’s mind was spinning, so her response was a little delayed, but Reid’s last two words finally registered.
Duct tape. She had that. Her father was always giving her rolls of the stuff and every time Tori asked what it was good for, exactly, he would reply, “Oh, it’s good for everything. Keep a roll in your car, too, for emergencies.” Tori had never found a use for it, but neither could she throw it out, since it apparently had something to do with safety. Tori was big on safety.
She ran to the kitchen and yanked open a drawer so hard it came off its tracks and crashed to the floor, sending five leaden doughnuts of duct tape bouncing and rolling across the immaculate white tile. She snagged two of them and raced back to the living room.
“Thanks,” Sam said, throwing an amused look at his brother as he plucked a single roll from Tori’s outstretched hands. “But there’s just the one guy here.”
He passed the tape around Bill’s wrists a couple of times, then tore and secured it. He jerked more tape off the roll to wrap around Bill’s ankles, the screech of the adhesive providing a welcome distraction from the profanities and death threats Bill had begun yelling.
Sam tore off a short strip of tape and pressed it over Bill’s mouth, then nodded approvingly. “Good old duct tape.” He pushed up to his feet and handed the roll back to Tori.
Reid lowered the gun to his side. It looked like a little silver-blue toy in his large hand, but the bottom half of one of Tori’s double-hung windows was now gone, so the weapon was plenty real.
Bill had meant to kill her. Tori’s mind was simply unable to process that as she looked down at the man she had once loved like a brother. When he flayed her with an accusing stare, she turned her head sharply, only to be trapped by Sam McGarry’s inquisitive gaze. For a man who had his mouth closed, Sam was asking an awful lot of questions.
Well, Tori had some questions, too. “What made you c-come in here?” she asked, her voice still shaking right along with the rest of her.
“I’m helping Reid move in next door.” Sam pointed to the wall that separated Tori’s apartment from the neighboring unit. “Your door was open, so I walked in by mistake.”
“God sent you,” Tori said, certain of that.
The brothers exchanged a look. “So it appears,” Reid said quietly.
Sam bowed his head and stared hard at the floor. Tori guessed he was praying and she wondered what words he was finding to express his relief and gratitude. She couldn’t pray at all. The preternatural calm that had washed over her when Bill pressed the gun against her temple had already ebbed; her anxiety was increasing every instant. And those crimson splotches on Sam McGarry’s T-shirt weren’t helping.
“Y-you don’t have any…bullet holes?” she asked when he looked up.
He flashed a dazzling smile that would have been toothpaste-commercial quality if a sizeable chip hadn’t been missing from one of his front teeth. “No holes,” he assured her, spreading his arms and looking as solid as an oak tree.
“We pretend not to notice that big one in his head,” Reid confided. He slid his free hand into the pocket of his jeans and propped one shoulder against the wall, his expression oddly wary as he watched his brother.
“Just out of curiosity.” Sam hiked up his sleeve and inspected his right bicep. Its tanned, bulgy perfection was marred by a darkening bruise surrounding a red checkmark of broken skin. “What on earth did you hit me with?”
“What?” Suddenly afraid he might be as unstable as Bill, Tori backed away from him. “I didn’t hit—”
“You did,” he said shortly.
Excerpted from A Season Of Forgiveness by Brenda Coulter Copyright © 2007 by Brenda Coulter. Excerpted by permission.
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