Sara Douglas watched as Nick Tyson emerged from the heavy rain, broken and battered. She’d returned to Cape Darkwood, and the cliff side mansion that held her family’s secrets, to research her parents’ murder—and stop the nightmares. As chief of police, Sara knew Nick could help. But his mere presence had always left her breathless…
Few people understood how much Nick had lost, but while Sara ran, Nick had nowhere else to go. Instead, he patrolled a divided town whose secrets lay dormant at the bottom of the cliffs. Nick wouldn’t let that be Sara’s fate, no matter how much it pained him to see her again. Their pasts linked by tragedy, the truth would finally give them a fresh start. But only if the keeper of that truth allowed it…
Originally published in 2007
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About the Author
LINDA CASTILLO, author of New York Times bestselling Sworn to Silence, lives in Texas with her husband and is currently at work on her next book in this series, also set in Amish Country and featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder.
Read an Excerpt
The headlights of the rental car cut through rain and fog and darkness. Gripping the steering wheel, Sara Douglas inched along the narrow coast road at a snail's pace, not daring to look over the guardrail where the landscape dropped away to the rocky shore a hundred feet below.
The house had been calling to her for quite some time. Years, in fact, but Sara had never heeded that nagging little voice. Her job as a costume designer kept her far too busy to listen to frivolous voices inside her head. Certainly not when it came to the terrible chain of events that had shattered her life twenty years ago.
The phone call two days ago had changed everything.
Even now, the memory of the electronically altered voice sent a chill skittering up her spine. Why would someone call her and dredge up a past she'd spent a lifetime trying to forget? Who would go to such lengths to hide their identity and why? Sara intended to find out.
Midnight was not the best time to arrive at a sprawling old mansion you haven't seen for two decades. She'd planned on arriving in the light of day, but her flight from San Diego to San Francisco had been delayed due to mechanical problems. She'd taken a puddle jumper to the Shelter Cove Airport, a tiny facility that served much of northwestern California known as the Lost Coast. By the time she retrieved her luggage and rented a car, it was nearly ten o'clock.
A leaning mailbox overgrown with a tangle of vines alerted her that she'd reached her destination. She turned the car into the weed-riddled driveway. The old Douglas mansion loomed before her like some aging Hollywood actress. Shrouded in mystery and glamour and scandal, the house was perched high above the rocky cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The old place seemed to cry as it looked out over the black expanse of sea. Twenty-five years ago Sara's father, Richard Douglas-an up-and-coming Hollywood producer at the time-designed and built it for his family. A dream home that should have been filled with children and laughter and happiness.
A double murder and suicide five years later turned his dream into a nightmare, the mansion into a dark legend and the setting for even darker stories.
Sara and her sister, Sonia, had inherited the property. They'd rented out the old place a dozen times over the years. They'd discussed selling it more than once, even going so far as to put it on the real estate market. But the house hadn't sold. Later, the real estate agent told them no one wanted a house that had been the backdrop for the worst crime in the history of Cape Darkwood.
The headlights illuminated the battered mahogany garage door through slashing rain. Sara put the vehicle in Park and killed the engine. For an instant the only sound came from the pounding of rain on the roof.
"Welcome home," she whispered. But her voice sounded strained in the silence of her car.
Not giving herself time to debate the wisdom of coming here tonight, she threw open the door and stepped into the driving rain. Darting to the rear of the car, she heaved her suitcase from the trunk and started toward the front door. Around her the cold air smelled of the ocean and wet foliage.
She rolled the suitcase up the slate walkway to the tall beveled-glass door and jammed her key into the lock. A single twist and the door groaned open. The odors of dust, mildew and years of neglect greeted her. She'd called ahead and had the utility companies turn on the electricity and phone. As her hand fumbled along the wall in the darkness, she fervently hoped they had.
A sigh of relief slid from her lips when her fingers found the switch and light flooded the foyer. For a moment, Sara could do nothing but stare at the majesty of the double spiral staircase. Constructed of marble and mahogany, twin stairs curved left and right to a railed balcony hall above that overlooked the grand foyer.
An onslaught of memories rushed over her. Her dad standing in the hall with his arms wrapped around her mother. The sound of laughter as she and Sonia rode their sleeping bags down the slick marble steps in a race to the bottom. She could practically smell the roses her mother picked every morning and arranged in a vase on the console table.
In a flash, the memories were gone, replaced by the emptiness of a house that had been vacant for so long there was no life left inside it.
Sara's boots clicked smartly against the marble tile as she crossed to the formal dining room. She flipped the light switch and for an instant she could only stand there as the grandeur of the room washed over her. A crystal chandelier iced with cobwebs cast prisms of light onto an oblong table draped with a dusty tarp. A floor-to-ceiling window looked out over a garden that had once abounded with roses and wild-flowers, neat rows of herbs and the ornate Victorian gazebo Daddy and Uncle Nicholas had built that last summer. Little did they know that by fall all three of them would be dead-and her father would be accused of murder and suicide.
For twenty years Sara had believed that. She'd hated her father for stealing her childhood and shattering her happiness. For two decades she'd held that hatred close; she'd clung to it because she'd needed someone to blame. Someone to hate so she could lock all those old emotions into a compartment and get on with her life.
The phone call had brought it all rushing back, like black water backing up in a drain.
Leaving her suitcase in the dining room, she went through the first level of the house, turning on lights as she went. Some of the rooms didn't have lamps, but there was enough light for her to see that the interior had fallen in to disrepair. In her father's study, she walked along the floor-to-ceiling shelves, wondering what had happened to his collection of books. The scents of lemon oil, fragrant cigars and the leather of his chair drifted to her, but they were only memories. An arched hall took her to the bathroom. Several marble tiles on one wall had fallen to the floor and broken. Rust-colored water dripped from the ceiling, forming a puddle the size of a saucer on the floor. In the semidarkness, the stain looked like blood.
"Don't even go there," she muttered, refusing to let her imagination take flight.
She lugged her suitcase up the stairs. Her heart pitter-pattered in her chest when she shoved open the door to her old bedroom and turned on the light. For an instant she expected to see twin beds with matching pink comforters and frilly pillows. Carved pine furniture. A purple bean-bag chair and a doll-house as big as a Volkswagen.
Instead she was met with a queen-size bed and an antique cherry bureau that was covered with dust. A tarnished brass lamp sat upon a lone night table. Fresh linens rested on a wingback chair. It was the only room in which the furniture wasn't covered.
Sara was glad she'd called ahead and told the caretaker, a retiree by the name of Skeeter Jenks, that she would be staying the week. She and Sonia had been sending him a small check each month for maintenance. She thought about the leak in the bathroom and made a mental note to call him the next morning.
Setting her suitcase on the bed, Sara unpacked her clothes and toiletries. She'd just hung the last pair of jeans in the closet when the lights flickered and went out. She knew it was silly-she was not afraid of storms-but her heart went into overdrive when she was suddenly plunged into darkness.
"Lovely," she muttered.
Nothing to be alarmed about, a shaky little voice assured her. The mansion was old and practically derelict. More than likely, lightning or the wind had taken out a telephone pole. Or maybe she'd turned on too many lights and overloaded the fuse box.
Thankful she'd had the foresight to bring a flashlight, she went to the night table and pulled it from the drawer, hoping that the caretaker kept candles and fuses on hand.
She jumped at a deafening crack of thunder. Her laugh came too quickly and sounded forced. She was not afraid of storms. Really, she wasn't.
Dim light filtered in through the French doors and within seconds her eyes adjusted to the inky blackness. The din of rain against the roof seemed louder in the darkness, the shadows more menacing. The wind whistled around the wrought-iron rails of the balcony. The silhouettes of the trees outside swayed in the gale. Somewhere in the house, she heard banging. A shutter? Or was it something else?
Using the flashlight, she made her way to the hall. The steps creaked beneath her feet as she descended the stairs and entered the foyer. The banging grew louder. She swept the beam right toward the kitchen. It was just the wind, she told herself. A piece of siding torn loose by the storm. But the flashlight beam trembled.
Thrusting the flashlight out before her like a weapon, she made her way to the kitchen. It was a cavernous room with cobalt tile countertops and intricately designed rosewood cabinetry. Once upon a time, it had been state-of-the-art. Her parents had enjoyed cooking and entertaining. Sara had spent many an afternoon sitting at the counter while her parents hovered over fancy canap s and hors d'oeuvres she couldn't pronounce.
Dim light spilled in through the arched window above the sink. During the day the window offered a stunning view of a turbulent sea. Tonight, it held darkness and shadows and a vague threat Sara didn't want to acknowledge.
Setting the flashlight on the counter, she went through each drawer. Relief slid through her when she finally unearthed a half-burned candle and a box of wooden matches.
"Who says I don't have all the luck."
She found a saucer in the cupboard, set the candle on it and lit the wick. Yellow light cast flickering images on the walls. Picking up the flashlight, she turned toward the utility room. She was midway through the kitchen when movement in her peripheral vision stopped her dead in her tracks.
Gasping, Sara spun. Her heart slammed against her ribs when she saw a shadow pass quickly past the window. She stumbled back, adrenaline burning her gut. The flashlight slipped from her hand and clattered to the floor.
Quickly, she snatched it up, but the bulb had gone out. She tapped it against the heel of her palm. When she glanced back at the window, the shadow was gone.
A terrible uneasiness stole over her. Someone was out there; she was sure of it. But why would they be at the back window of a vacant old house on a night like this? Vandals? Teenagers looking for a place to hang out? Or was something more ominous in the works?
The memory of the phone call flicked through her mind, conjuring a tinge of fear. Had she locked the front door? Was the garage locked? What about the patio doors?
Setting her hand on the cell phone clipped to her waistband, she doused the candle, knowing she would be less visible to an intruder in total darkness.
Never taking her eyes off the window, she backed from the kitchen. Her heart hammered as she moved silently through the hall toward the staircase. She could hear herself breathing hard. Blood roared like a jet engine in her ears. She passed the front door. Through the beveled glass, lightning flashed with blinding intensity, illuminating a tall figure draped in black and dripping with rain. A scream tore from her throat. She scrambled back, her hand shooting to the cell phone at her waist. The door flew open with a burst of wind and rain.
"Stop right there," came a deep male voice.