Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One:
Kevin Hennessey held out his hand toward the smoldering turf fire and listened to the wind rattling through the eaves and down the chimney. Rain pinged on the tin roof as the third squall in a week, and by far the strongest, buffeted the lone cottage. So much for his pleasant seaside holiday.
But what did he expect during summer in Donegal, especially in these parts? His old man had lived here nearly ten years when he'd died this spring, and the entire time, he groused to anyone who visited that Malin Head possessed only three kinds of weather-barely tolerable, foul, and more foul.
A rapping noise interrupted Kevin's reverie. Had one of the shutters on the front window blown loose? Jaysus, but he hoped not. He most decidedly did not want to go outside in the dark and the rain to fix the bloody thing.
The noise came again, louder and unmistakable, and thoroughly improbable. Someone was pounding on the front door. Kevin turned in slack-jawed surprise at the realization. The house stood at the end of a perpetually muddy lane, an isolated sentinel on the ragged bluff, more than three kilometers from its nearest neighbor. No one ventured out here without an express invitation. 'Twas the way Declan Hennessey had liked it, and Kevin preferred it the same.
What feckin' neddy would be out in a storm like this, then?
He snatched the battery-powered lamp off the end table and strode to the front door to find out. Gripping the light in his left hand, he threw the bolt and eased open the heavy wooden door.
A dripping figure in a yellow rain slicker stumbled forward. Nearly dropping the lamp, he stuck out an arm, and the woman steadied herself. He knew the stranger was a woman the moment her slender fingers gripped him, a Yank judging from her muddy jeans and trainers. She jerked away from him as if burned, her dark eyes enormous in her pale face, wet hair plastered against her head.
"Are you a policeman?" she asked, her accent confirming his assumption that she was indeed American. "They told me at the pub that a policeman lived at the end of this road."
Where the devil had she come from? Kevin peered around her into the yard but saw no vehicle.
Another gust of wind blew rain into his eyes and made the woman teeter unsteadily on the doorstep. He grabbed her forearm, dragged her over the threshold, and shoved the door closed.
"My father was constable of our village in County Derry," Kevin answered gruffly. "But he's been dead these past three months."
"I'm sorry, but are you Mr. Hennessey's son? They told me you were a policeman too." The woman's voice crackled with tension, and deep shadows purpled the skin beneath her eyes. "I need your help. My brother's in trouble, and I have to find him!"
She swayed against him again, and Kevin recognized that it was exhaustion, not the wind or rain, making her unsteady.
"Let's have a cuppa first, shall we?" He surprised himself with the invitation, but something about her wouldn't let him turn her back out into the rain. "I'll take your coat and then put on the kettle."
Shoving a lock of wet hair off her forehead, she squinted at him in confusion before understanding spread across her face. "Oh, you mean tea."
"Yes." Kevin spoke slowly and carefully as he held out his hand. "But give me your coat first. Miss, uh?"
"Oh, sorry! O'Neill, Amber O'Neill." She pulled one hand out of her wet slicker and started to shake his, splattering drops of water on his shirt and the floor. "Oh no! Sorry..."
"'Tis no matter." He watched her peel the soggy garment off. Underneath, her T-shirt was also damp and clung enticingly to the nicest set of tits he'd seen in many a day.
He didn't ogle women's tits. Not since he went off the sauce. But here he was, gawking like a schoolboy. He grabbed the dripping coat and turned quickly away to hang it on one of the pegs beside the door.
"Are you Mr. Hennessey's son?" she persisted.
Taking a deep breath, he composed himself before he turned and answered. "Yes, I'm Kevin Hennessey, but I'm afraid I'm not a policeman. Not anymore."
A stricken look clouded her eyes, which he now noticed were the same golden brown as her name, Amber. A strangled sound gurgled in the back of her throat as her hands on her forearms. The lamp clanked onto the tiles in the process, and the noise made her flinch.
"My brother..." she murmured and flailed one hand toward the doorknob.
"Come inside and sit down," Kevin urged, still rather stunned by his sudden, unreasoning need to assist her. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and retrieved the fallen lamp with the other, then guided her into the sitting room.
"How long since you've eaten?" he asked when she'd settled onto the sofa in front of the fireplace.
Amber O'Neill gave a slight shake of her head and gnawed at her bottom lip for a moment. "I dunno. I ate a candy bar in the Shannon airport."
Her answer caused him to thump the lamp down onto the end table with surprise. "You drove straight here from the Shannon airport? That must have taken what, eight or nine hours?"
"I dunno," she repeated, staring at the mud and dirty water dripping off her shoes and the bottoms of her soaked jeans. "I'm not even sure what day it is."
"'Tis Thursday night," he replied, but she didn't respond except to give an expansive yawn. "I'll just put on the kettle then. Won't take a moment."
He disappeared into the kitchen, which had been added long after the cottage was first constructed and therefore had gas, electricity, and running water. Quickly filling the electric teakettle, he plugged it in and grabbed the tin of McVitie's Digestives before he hurried back to his unexpected guest. She sat with her head slumped forward in what looked like a meditative state.
"Biscuit?" He pried the lid off the tin and held it out toward her.
Her golden eyes moved, uncomprehending, between the tin and his face.
"Please help me." Her plea sounded soft and tremulous as she removed a broken cookie. "Something terrible has happened to Parker."