Night of Reunion: A Novel

Night of Reunion: A Novel

by Michael Allegretto

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Overview

In this “suspenseful thriller,” a psychotic woman’s obsession with vengeance threatens a family’s fragile happiness (Library Journal).
After her release from the hospital, Christine drives straight to Colorado. The heat in her car is busted and her clothes are thin, but Christine doesn’t mind the chill. She is going to find Alex, and when she does, she will have vengeance to keep her warm. Years ago, after giving up her son for adoption, this delicate young beauty flew into a fit of jealous madness, killing her child and his new mother. The boy’s adoptive father, Alex, got away. He did not go far enough.
Living in Denver with his new wife and her six-year-old son, Alex is happy for the first time in years. When he learns of Christine’s release from the hospital, the police assure him that she won’t be allowed to harm his new family. But when strange things start happening around their rambling old house, Alex begins to fear that Christine is closer than he thinks. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480462793
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 276
File size: 905 KB

About the Author

Michael Allegretto (b. 1944) is an American author of thrillers and mystery fiction best known for creating Colorado private detective Jacob Lomax. Raised in Colorado, Allegretto spent his youth listening to the stories of his father, a Denver police officer whose experiences he later used as the basis for his first books. He made his debut in 1987 with Death on the Rocks, a story of murder, blackmail, and pornography that introduced Allegretto’s only series character: Jacob Lomax, an ex-cop who becomes a private detective after the brutal murder of his wife.
Lomax would star in four more novels, including Blood Stone (1988), The Dead of Winter (1989), and Grave Doubt (1995). In the early 1990s, Allegretto began writing standalone novels, including the Christmas suspense story Night of Reunion (1990) and the fast-paced family thriller The Watchmen (1991).

Read an Excerpt

Night of Reunion

A Novel


By Michael Allegretto

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1990 Michael Allegretto
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6279-3


CHAPTER 1

She steered the car steadily westward through the winter night.

She was alone on this long, flat stretch of highway, and her headlight beams knifed quickly through the darkness, illuminating swirling flakes of snow. The dashboard lights painted her hands and face a sickly green.

She drove in silence, the radio off. The only sound was the hum of the tires on the cold black asphalt.

She'd been on the road for several days, sleeping where she could, eating only when she had to. Her money was almost gone. She couldn't afford to stay in motels or dine in roadside restaurants. She could barely afford the cheap, greasy take-out food she forced herself to eat.

Gasoline. That's where the last few dollars had to go.

And so she ignored the rumblings in her empty belly from too little food and the ache in her back and legs from sleeping in the car. She could even ignore the fact that she hadn't bathed in days, although her body odor seemed to grow thicker by the hour within the confines of the car.

But she could not ignore the cold. It numbed her feet and hands and made her hunch forward over the wheel, shivering.

She swore at the car's heater. It seemed to have a mind of its own. Sometimes it gave forth warm, welcome air, enough to take away the chill, at least briefly. But most of the time it was silent and cold.

The car's previous owner hadn't had time to tell her about the heater. She'd had to find that out on her own. And really, it wouldn't be so bad if the clothes she'd borrowed were better. Oh, they were pretty clothes, and they were almost exactly the right size, but they weren't warm enough, not if you were driving with no heater.

She tried not to think about the cold. Instead, she thought about pleasant things. Leaving the hospital, for example. And speaking by telephone to the nice man at Alex Whitaker's old school. He'd told her that Alex no longer taught there; he'd accepted a post in Colorado Springs. The man had even given her a home address, although he hadn't known if it was current.

"It doesn't matter," she'd told the man. "I'll find him."

And she knew that she would, even if she had to track him clear across the country. She'd find him because she had to. Finding him was all she had left. That and her hate.

And now her headlights splashed across a sign on the side of the road. She grinned and read it aloud.

"Welcome to Colorful Colorado."

She drove through the black-and-white landscape, ignoring the cold. Her fingers on the steering wheel were as stiff and hard as the talons of a bird of prey.

CHAPTER 2

Sarah whitaker took the mail from the box, barely looking at it.

She unlocked the front door, stepped into the foyer, and dumped the mail—two magazines and a handful of envelopes—on the small table. Then she peeled off her gloves, shook herself out of her coat, and hung it in the hall closet.

When she turned around, she nearly tripped over the cat.

"Hey, Patches, what's going on?" She squatted down and rubbed the big orange-and-white cat behind the ears. He bumped his thick head into her leg and purred hard enough to be heard. Then he circled Sarah with his tail erect and his body leaning against her. She noticed that his left ear was smudged with dirt.

"What've you been doing? Chasing phantom mice?"

Patches meowed.

"That's what I thought," she said, and stood.

Sarah crossed the foyer to the foot of the stairs, the cat at her heels. She turned the thermostat up to seventy-two. Then she remembered last month's bill from Colorado Springs Utility, swore under her breath, and turned it down to sixty-eight. She heard the muffled roar of the gas furnace kicking on in the basement and, almost immediately afterward, the soft ticking of warm water flowing through the pipes along the baseboards.

That was the first improvement she and Alex had made right after moving in last June—installing hot-water heat. They'd abandoned the forced-air furnace, which they both knew would cause uneven heating, drafts, and faint black streaks on the walls above the registers. But even with their new, efficient heating system, they were apprehensive about the cost of keeping a house this size comfortable. Especially through Colorado's winter months.

Actually, the house had more space than they'd ever need. But soon after Sarah and Alex first met, they'd learned that they'd been sharing a dream—to live in a large, old home. And just before they were married, this one had come on the market. It seemed perfect. And since the housing market here was somewhat depressed, the house had been perfectly priced for their combined incomes.

"Besides," Alex had said, "look at that backyard!"

Sarah had to agree that the two acres of wooded ground behind the house would be a wonderful place for her son to play and explore. In fact, what six-and-a-half-year-old boy wouldn't want a backyard the size of a small park?

Sarah smiled to herself, climbed the curving staircase, and walked down the hallway to the master bedroom.

She pulled off her jeans, which were a bit too tight. Because they'd shrunk, she told herself, not because she was "bulking up for the winter," as her partner at the shop liked to say. Her shirt smelled faintly of perm solution. She tossed it in the hamper along with her panties and bra, then climbed into the shower. This was another improvement that Alex had made to the old house—hanging a shower curtain around the bathtub and installing a spray head. Sarah let the hot needle-spray massage the stiffness out of her neck and shoulders.

When she was finished, she toweled herself off, then stood naked in front of the mirror and blow-dried her hair. It was black and silky and shoulder length. She'd had it cut in a simple style, which made it easier to take care of—a small relief after spending the day taking care of other people's hair.

She put aside the brush and drier and leaned forward, examining her face in the mirror.

Sarah had even features and a "cute" nose, which she hated, even though she knew women who'd paid thousands of dollars to get one just like it. Maybe that's why she didn't like it. She thought her best feature was her eyes, which were wide set and deep blue. She didn't think of herself as pretty, although she'd been called that often enough. She did, however, think of herself as "young," even though last week she'd found her first gray hair.

The sight of it had stopped her brush hand in mid-stroke. She'd plucked out the pale offender, betrayer of age, and carefully dropped it in the wastebasket, trying not to feel old.

I'm months away from my twenty-ninth birthday, she thought. Hardly old. That hair had been a premature aberration, not a harbinger of age.

She examined herself in the mirror, turning slowly, raising her arms, looking for dreaded wrinkles or sags but feeling confident about not finding any. Everything looked and felt smooth and firm—arms and legs, breasts and stomach, buttocks and thighs.

Best of all, she felt great. So what are you worried about? she thought.

Thirty, she knew.

She was closing in on it, and there was something about that number. In her twenties, she'd considered anyone over thirty to be old and not entirely to be trusted. Of course, in high school she'd thought the same of anyone over twenty.

Okay, she admonished herself, so it's all relative.

Still, there had been that gray hair.

Half an hour later, Sarah, now dressed in yellow sweatpants and matching sweatshirt, was in the big, old-fashioned kitchen, with its hanging pots, wide counters, and ceiling-high cupboards. The radio on the countertop was tuned to a Golden Oldies station. Sarah shook chicken breasts and drumsticks in a sack filled with crumbs and spices and kept time to Aretha Franklin singing "Respect." When the song ended, she began arranging the breaded chicken pieces on a baking tray.

She heard the front door open, and a moment later Brian burst into the kitchen, still wearing his parka and wool cap and waving a sheet of paper.

"Hey, Mom! I got a silver star!"

Sarah smiled down at the black-haired, blue-eyed ball of energy. "Hiya, kiddo. A silver star? Let me see. Wait a minute."

She rinsed her hands in the sink, dried them on a dish towel, then took the paper from her son. It was thick brown drawing paper on which he'd rendered an ominous-looking figure with a white face, a black cape, and a yellow sticklike object from which emanated red rays. A silver star had been glued to the upper right-hand corner.

"It's Lord Doom," he said, looking at the tray of coated chicken pieces. "What's that?"

"Lord Doom? It's dinner."

"Yeah, but what is it?"

"Brian, come on, it's chicken."

"Oh."

"You love chicken, remember?"

"I guess." He sounded uncertain.

"It'll look a lot better after it's baked. Trust me."

"Okay, Mom." He started to leave.

"Hey, do you want your picture?"

"Oh, yeah." He came back for it.

"So who's Lord Doom?"

"You know, on the Saturday cartoons. Lord Doom and the Sword of Power."

Sarah bumped her forehead with the heel of her hand in an exaggerated manner. "Oh, that Lord Doom."

"Mom," Brian said, smiling, his head cocked to the side, "there's only one."

Sarah smiled back. "Well, I think it's neat that you got a silver star."

He beamed, then lowered his eyes. "Lots of the other kids got one, too."

"Even so, I'm proud of you. That's the best picture of Lord Doom I've ever seen."

"Really?"

"Really."

"All right!"

He spun toward the doorway, nearly colliding with Alex.

"Hey, slow down."

"Sorry, Dad," Brian said, and he was gone.

Alex took Sarah in his arms. He was a few inches shy of six feet, which made him half a head taller than Sarah. His light brown hair looked the way it usually did, as if he'd just run his fingers through it, and there was a familiar sparkle in his greenish-brown eyes.

"Hi," he said, and they kissed. "How was your day?"

Sarah hugged him, and the wool of his sweater-vest tickled her nose. "Busy, as usual."

"Good," he said. "It'll keep you out of trouble."

She gave him a playful punch in the ribs. "I'll give you all the trouble you can handle, buster."

He laughed.

"And how are things at Jefferson High?" Sarah asked, turning back to the platter of chicken. "Are your students brimming with more historical knowledge tonight than they were this morning?"

"This close to vacation? Are you kidding? They're thinking more about Christmas purchases than the Louisiana Purchase. Can I help with dinner?"

"Everything's under control."

"Okay," he said, tugging at his tie. "Then I'm going to get washed up and dressed down."

"We'll eat in an hour."

"Great." He patted her on the backside and started toward the door, then stopped.

"Did we get any mail?" he asked.

"It's by the front door. Looks like mostly junk and maybe a bill or two."

"No use ruining my appetite now," he said, and walked out.

Sarah put the oven on "bake" and turned the dial to four hundred. She pulled open the refrigerator and got out a head of lettuce, a red onion, a small can of black olives, and a thin wedge of feta cheese. While she made the salad, she heard muffled noises from upstairs—the clomping of feet and a faint, high-pitched scream followed by laughter. Sarah pictured Alex chasing Brian down the hallway, and she smiled.

She knew how fortunate she was to have them both. And how fortunate that they got along so well. She'd heard of more than one divorced woman who'd remarried, only to find that her child and her new husband were not compatible.

But not me, she thought, and knocked her knuckles twice on the wooden cutting board.

Brian and Alex had hit it off from the start, and for the past eighteen months—seven of which they'd spent under the same roof—their respect and fondness for each other had grown. It matched the love that Sarah felt for them both. She knew that at last she was exactly where she belonged.

And this is where the chicken belongs, she thought, smiling to herself and sliding the tray into the oven.

Later, while they ate dinner at the big table in the kitchen, they discussed where they should put the Christmas tree. After all, it was their first Christmas in this house.

During Christmases past, when Sarah had lived in the small house across town—first as a mother and a wife, later as a single parent—there had been no question about where the tree should go: the only available corner of the tiny living room. Of course, Brian had come into the world after the tree's location had been determined, so he'd had no say in the matter. And Alex had never had a tree before. At least not in the apartment he'd lived in when Sarah first met him. Before that, when he'd been with his first wife in New York, Sarah couldn't say.

The three of them quickly dismissed the dining room as the place for the tree, and just as quickly, the music room. That left the family room and the living room.

Alex opted for the former, because it was the largest room in the house.

"More room for a tree," he said.

Brian immediately scrambled out of his chair.

"Brian, where—"

"I'll be right back," he said, and ran out of the room.

Alex looked at Sarah and shrugged. A few moments later Brian returned.

"The family room is a great place for the Christmas tree," he said. "We can put it in the corner next to the TV."

"Good idea," Alex said. "Now how about sitting back down and finishing your dinner."

As soon as Brian was reseated and had picked up his half-eaten drumstick, Sarah said she preferred the living room.

"If we put the tree in the bay window," she said, "you could see it from the street."

Brian's chicken leg hit the plate, and he was up and out of the kitchen door in a flash. Sarah looked at Alex.

"We don't have a third choice for a room, do we?"

"If we think of one, let's wait until after dinner."

"Good plan."

Brian came back.

"The big window is a perfect place for the tree," he said.

"Hey, what about my idea?"

"It's good, too, Dad."

"See," Alex said to Sarah.

"So, can we have two trees?" Brian wanted to know.

"Nice try, Brian," Sarah said. "Now get back up here and finish your dinner, okay?"

They decided on the living room, mostly because of the fireplaces. They'd yet to use the one in the living room, but they'd already burned a half-dozen fires in the family room, and the combination of heat and dry air was sure to quickly dry out a pine tree.

After dinner Brian went up to his room, and Alex helped Sarah clear the table and wash the dishes.

"Would you like tea?" Sarah said.

"Sounds good."

Sarah put the kettle on the stove. Alex left the kitchen and returned in a few minutes with the mail. He was sorting through it as he sat down.

"Junk, junk, phone bill, junk, bi—"

He stopped, and Sarah looked at him. He was frowning at the plain white envelope in his hand.

"What is it?"

Alex shook his head. "It's ... odd, that's all."

He slit open the envelope with his thumbnail and removed a single page folded in thirds. As he unfolded it, a small newspaper clipping fell to the tabletop. Alex glanced at it, then sucked in his breath and snatched up the newsprint.

"Oh, my God," he said, his eyes scanning the item. He held it between his thumb and forefinger, and Sarah could see that he was squeezing so tightly his fingernail was white.

"Alex, what?"

He acted as if he hadn't heard her, quickly reading the handwritten letter. Then he reread the news item.

"Alex?"

Sarah stepped toward him, and his head jerked up as if he'd forgotten that she was in the room. For a brief moment she saw something in his eyes that she'd never seen there before—fear. And then it was gone.

He stood awkwardly, pushing the chair back with his legs, making it screech on the floor.

"Honey, what is it?"

Alex shook his head no, looking down, avoiding her eyes.

"Nothing," he said, "it's ..."

He shook his head again and walked from the room.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Night of Reunion by Michael Allegretto. Copyright © 1990 Michael Allegretto. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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