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The lake still smelled of summer. Juliet Longstreet, her jeans rolled up to midcalf, stood in water up to her ankles. Its warmth surprised her, although it shouldn't have. As kids, she and her brothers had gone swimming in the small lake into October, not that the water was warm then. But in late September, in the early days of autumn, anything was possible.
She dug her toes into the soft, muddy bottom, looking across the rippling water to the opposite shore, nestled amid the hills of east central Vermont. The leaves were beginning to turn. She could see dots of red, patches of yellow. She breathed in the clean air and suddenly was sorry she had to head back to New York in a few hours. She'd already packed up her tent and rolled up her sleeping bag.
Her work was in New York, if not her life.
But she didn't know that her life was here, either.
She glanced behind her and took in the small clearing where she'd pitched her tent, the cluster of granite boulders amid birch trees, the tall pine trees with their dead underbranches, the huge, ancient sugar maple on the edge of the path to the dirt road that encircled half the lake. She could have stayed with her parents just over the hill, in her old bedroom overlooking the barn, or with any of her brothers who lived in the area, but she liked the quiet and solitude of her five acres on the lake.
A family from Massachusetts and a couple from New Jersey owned second homes on the lake, nothing fancy, just ordinary country houses. A private, nonprofit nature preserve owned the rest of the land on the lake. The only structure on the preserve's two hundred acres was an early nineteenth-century barn, all that remained of an old farm.
With the increase in land prices, Juliet could sell her quiet lakefront lot for a sizable profit. But given her itinerant lifestyle as a deputy U.S. marshal, she liked having land of her own, the sense of permanence it gave her. And her roots, at least, were in Vermont.
Spaceshot, the family black Lab, waddled down the path from the road and joined her at the lake's edge, but didn't get too close to the water. "You could use a swim — the exercise would do you good," Juliet said to the dog, knowing he wouldn't have worked up the energy to walk down to the lake by himself. "Who came with you?"
Her niece Wendy followed the dog's route down the path, walking over the matted-down grass where Juliet had pitched her tent. At seventeen, Wendy was the eldest of the Longstreet grandchildren. She was short and slim and had dark hair and dark eyes like her mother, who'd walked out on Juliet's oldest brother fifteen years ago. Susie Longstreet had home-schooled her only child. Wendy graduated a year earlier than her peers but decided not to go straight to college. Then, over the summer, Susie announced she was renting her house and leaving on the first of September to study yoga in Nova Scotia for six months.
That left Wendy with few options, but she chose to live with her Longstreet grandparents and work at the family landscaping business. She seemed happy with her decision. She was a hard worker, but she was self-conscious, determined to see herself as something of a mutant because she wasn't tall and big-boned — or fair-haired and blue-eyed — like her Longstreet grandparents, her father or her four uncles and aunt.
There were days Juliet would have traded Wendy for her long, fine, straight dark hair. Her own was cut short and filled with cowlicks. She'd never figured out what to do with it.
"Grandma said to tell you lunch will be on the table in twenty minutes," Wendy said.
"Thanks. Who'll be there?"
"Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Sam and Aunt Elizabeth." Wendy studied the water. "Dad."
For the Longstreets, a small gathering. "All right. I should get moving, anyway."
"Do you think I could visit you in New York sometime?"
"Sure, Wendy. Of course. Do you have something special in mind you'd like to do there?"
"Everything. I haven't been since Mum took me when I was ten. I'd love to go to the theater and see Central Park and Fifth Avenue — and go to museums. Mum and I went to the Met, but we didn't see all of it."
"My apartment's only a few blocks from the Museum of Natural History. But I'm only there for another month or so. My friend Freda will be back from
L.A. then and need her apartment back."
"Maybe I can come before you have to move?"
"That'd be great."
She seemed satisfied. Of Juliet's seven — and counting — nieces and nephews, Wendy was the most difficult to talk to. It wasn't just the divorce, the homeschooling, the tension between her mother and the expansive Longstreet clan — it was the girl herself. She was private, cerebral, defensive and very sensitive. "She's not like all you Longstreet lunkheads," Susie would say. And she'd be right, Juliet thought. Wendy was her own person; in fact, last night over dinner, she'd informed her father, aunt and grandparents that she was going vegan. She'd been a vegetarian for two years, but now she was locking down even further, eliminating all animal products from her diet, including milk and eggs.
Joshua had stalked from the table, telling his daughter she'd dry up on a stick and blow away if she didn't get a grip. In the morning, her grandparents had made her an omelet with cheddar cheese, as if she'd never said a word about her intentions. Offended, Wendy marched up to her room and stayed there. When Juliet headed back out to the lake, she'd noticed her niece up in her window seat, scribbling madly on a pad of paper. Her mother said Wendy wanted to be a doctor. Juliet wasn't so sure.
"Come on, Spaceshot," Wendy said, cheerfully clapping her hands at the dog. "Let's go back to the house. Come on, let's run!"
The dog didn't follow her lead and run to the path. He resumed his determined but interminable waddle. But at least Wendy was laughing, and, for the first time since Juliet had arrived in Vermont three days ago, she thought her niece would be okay for the next six months, with her mother in Nova Scotia. At least she'd had the sense not to try to live with her father at his place in town. As a Vermont state trooper, Joshua didn't keep a regular schedule, and he wasn't an easy man — even on a good day. He was the oldest of the six Longstreet siblings, Juliet the youngest and the only sister. None of her brothers fazed Juliet, but Wendy wasn't quite as hardheaded as her aunt — or the rest of the "Longstreet lunk-heads."
Juliet rolled down her pants' legs and slipped into her sport sandals, then joined her niece and Space-shot on the path. They crossed the dirt road and picked up the wide, grassy lane that put them back on Longstreet land. To their left, a steep dirt driveway shot up to a small hillside cabin that her family used for guests, overflow family, temporary workers or grandchildren's adventures. Juliet, Wendy and Spaceshot stayed on the lane, which wound around the bottom of the hill, passing through a stone wall into open fields. They came to a fork, one branch leading up into the apple orchard, the other back down to the house. They took the latter, amid wild-flowers and pine saplings no more than a foot tall.
"Why do you always wear a gun?" Wendy asked abruptly.
Juliet hadn't expected the question. "I'm a federal agent — "
"But not here. You work in New York."
"That's where I'm assigned, but 'federal' means I'm as much a marshal here in Vermont as I am in New York."
"Well, I would think you'd be able to take off your gun for Sunday lunch with your family."
It was a fair point, but Juliet didn't respond. Wendy was accustomed to law enforcement officers in the family. Not only was her aunt a deputy U.S. marshal and her father a state trooper, but another uncle was a police officer in town, and her grandfather was a former state trooper on disability since a shooting had left him with one leg shorter than the other. He'd nearly bled out that night. Juliet was a teenager when the troopers showed up at their door. Wendy was a toddler, her parents on the verge of divorce — she wouldn't remember.
Juliet had no intention of taking off her gun, for one overriding reason that trumped all others.
Bobby Tatro was a free man.
He'd been released from federal prison in late August after serving a four-year sentence on a nonvio-lent gun charge, but he wasn't a nonviolent man. Juliet had picked him up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Syracuse, where she had been assigned at the time. She'd been transferred to New York almost two years ago.
As she'd cuffed him, Tatro had vowed to come after her when he got out. "Your pretty blond ass is mine, Marshal. You can count on it."
It wasn't Juliet's first death threat nor would it be her last, but it was the most memorable since it came from Bobby Tatro. The gun charge was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Tatro's crimes. Everyone knew it, but prosecutors needed more evidence to charge him.
In the three weeks since his release, Juliet hadn't seen or heard from him, but still she watched her back. If Tatro was smart, he'd recognize that he'd served his time, paid the price for his mistakes and was now a free man. He'd move on with his life. Leave his past behind him. Get a job, save some money. Be glad he hadn't been charged on any of the violent offenses various prosecutors and investigators suspected him of having committed.
That, however, wasn't what Juliet or anyone else believed Bobby Tatro would do.
As she and Wendy approached the house, Space-shot perked up, leading the way through a gap in another stone wall and down to the small barn, where spikes of hollyhocks and dahlias with blossoms the size of dinner plates and tangles of blue morning glories grew up against its rough-hewn boards. The barn and sprawling white clapboard house were pre-Civil War, but the three greenhouses and perfunctory equipment shed were added as Longstreet Landscaping had expanded.
Her parents and three of her brothers — Jeffrey, Sam and Will, Jr. — worked in the family business. Joshua and Paul were in law enforcement. Juliet was in law enforcement, too, but they all persisted in the stubborn hope that she'd give it up soon and come home. It wasn't that they didn't believe in her. It was that they worried about her.
Wendy stopped alongside the tidy vegetable garden, fat, ripe tomatoes and pole beans dripping off staked plants, and tilted back her head, looking up at her aunt. "We need to bury Teddy sometime."
Taken aback, Juliet managed a nod. Teddy was Wendy's golden retriever, who'd died at sixteen the week before her mother left for Nova Scotia. Wendy had his ashes in a cracker tin in her room.