Fire Water

Fire Water

by Sally Gunning


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501133749
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 09/19/2015
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.00(d)

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Chapter One

Peter Bartholomew stood on the bank of the creek and watched the five-year-old Lucy Suggs as she scrabbled in the mud like a terrier after a bone. He had no idea what she was after -- fiddler crabs, shells, more mud? Whatever she was after, he hoped they didn't run out of it soon. For the first time since she'd arrived a month ago, the kid was having some good old-fashioned, unorchestrated fun, the kind of fun kids whose mothers hadn't just died probably had on a regular basis. For the past month Pete had stood on his head, literally, just to get Lucy to let go with a good old ear-to-ear grin, but this was different. With no pushing or prodding on Pete's part, here she was, small shoulders knotted with effort, hair spiked with globs of wet sand, cheeks pink, eyes glowing.

When she finally looked up at him every one of her milk teeth showed. "I'm finding treasure."

"Wow." The word had recently become Pete's favorite conversational tool. Lucy liked hyperbole. A simple "oh," and she'd fix him with those huge, dark eyes until he came up with the rest. Now she shot him one of those looks that told him she was feeling pretty pleased with herself, and, impossible as it might seem, pretty pleased with him, too.

Not that the little girl had had much choice. Minutes before the mother had died, she'd pointed Lucy in Pete's direction and mouthed two words at him. Keep her. So they'd kept her. And how many childless thirty-eight-year-old men, newly remarried to their ex-wives, could expertly field a five-year-old dropped into their laps? Not too many, he was sure.

Pete and Lucy sighed in unison, for different reasons. Lucy went back to her digging, ana, there." Pete reached out and nabbed Lucy by the back of the overalls only seconds before the ground underneath her caved in.

"There it is! Look, it's a big old ball! Get it, Pete! There it goes! It's whooshing away! Pete!"

Lucy hopped up and down, flimsy denim tugging against Pete's vicelike fingers. The ball had indeed tumbled into the creek and, the current being at full ebb, was rolling along the bottom end over end, toward the open sea. But Pete stood frozen on the bank, feeling himself curiously divided. In the old, pre-Lucy days Pete would have waded into the creek, captured Lucy's "treasure," and borne it proudly home. The new Pete wanted nothing more than to turn his back, march Lucy through the mud to the cottage, and leave the ball to wash up on someone else's beach, disrupt someone else's life for once. Hadn't he already done his share and more?

But even as his mind stood divided, his muscles seemed to unite against him. He scooped up Lucy, planted her safely ten feet behind him, plunged into the creek unmindful of jeans or sneakers, and slogged after the ball.

Which was no ball, he'd seen that much right off. He reached into the icy water, fished it out, and bundled it into his sweatshirt with his body carefully positioned between it and the little girl.

Lucy's treasure was not a giant rock, not a big ball, but a mud-stained human skull.

Copyright © 1999 by Sally Gunning

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