The twister that touches down in Bordelaise, Louisiana, not only destroys the calm of a summer Sunday, it pierces the soul of Katie Earle, whose young son Bobby goes missing…and it wasn't the storm that took him.
Katie's first thought is that her estranged husband, J.R., saw his chance and grabbed Bobby to spite her. But the reality goes beyond that to truly horrifying, and now her nightmare is only just beginning. The real terror will begin when the tornado's wreckage is cleared away and the kidnapper can escape with his prize.
The agony of uncertainty grows with every passing hour as Katie and J.R. reunite with a single, desperate purpose: to find their son before he slips from their grasp…forever.
Read an Excerpt
Bordelaise, Louisiana, May
Moonlight coming through the thin veil of curtains cast a pale yellow glow on the sweat-slicked bodies of the couple in the four-poster bed.
The woman's long dark hair spilled across the pillow beneath her head, while the man's hair, still damp from an earlier shower, glistened in the moonlight.
Her legs were locked around his waist.
His hands were braced on either side of her body.
The intensity of their lovemaking was, as always, made all the sweeter because their time together was so brief. But the briefness of their interlude was not because this was a secretive affair. J.R. and Katie Earle were married, and to each other. It was his job that kept them apart.
A single bead of sweat ran from J.R.'s hair and down the middle of his back, but he didn't feel it. The only thing on his mind was how good it felt to be making slow, sweet love to Katie.
Their bodies rocked in perfect rhythm—the kind that true partners know—meeting each other thrust for thrust as the heat between them grew. Like dancers caught in the spotlight of moonglow, their bodies moved in graceful passion.
It wasn't until Katie began to moan and her body began to tremble that J.R. lost his own control. He gave up and gave in, spilling his seed deep inside her in wave after wave of helpless ecstasy.
Katie was still shaking from the rocket ride of her climax when J.R. buried his face against the side of her neck and then covered her face with kisses.
"Ah, God…Katie…so good. So good. You don't know how I miss you when I'm gone."
Katie shuddered on a sigh as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"I love you so much," she said softly.
J.R.'s heart skipped. That was a vow that never got old.
"I love you, too, baby," he said softly, then pulled her to him and closed his eyes.
Like all married couples, their lives weren't perfect. Katie would have been happier if J.R.'s job didn't take him away from home, if they could be together every night, like most of the other families in Bordelaise. It wasn't the best of situations, but his job was too good to give up, and until now, they'd had no other options.
What Katie didn't know was that this weekend, J.R. had come with a secret. Macklan Brothers Oil had just given him a promotion that would mean he'd be home every night. All they had to do was move to New Orleans and their lives would be perfect.
But there was a kink yet to be ironed out. J.R. knew how attached his wife was to this town and this house, and how fragile she had been emotionally since her parents' deaths.
Katie's parents had lived in Bordelaise all their lives until J.R. and Katie got married. That was when they'd deeded their little house to the newlyweds as a wedding present and moved to New Orleans, and that was where they were living when their grandson, Bobby, was born. Just before his second birthday, Hurricane Katrina hit. Communication ground to a halt. Cell phones didn't work. People who'd been evacuated became separated from their families. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were unaccounted for. And Katie's parents were among them.
The days of not knowing had turned into weeks of pure misery before their bodies were finally found, floating in what had once been the attic of their home.
If it hadn't been for J.R. and the knowledge that she had to stay strong for the child who needed her, Katie would have lost her mind.
They'd gotten through the tragedy together, even though there were still times when the knowledge of how her parents had died threatened to overwhelm her. But the familiarity of Bordelaise, and the comfort of living in her childhood home, had been a buffer against the pain.
J.R. knew she hated being apart from him as much as he did her, but he was afraid to tell her about the promotion, and uncertain how she was going to feel about moving to the city of her nightmares.
It was that very fear that had kept him from blurting out his news the moment he'd walked in, and it was still that fear that kept him silent as they fell asleep in each other's arms.
On the other side of town, the window-unit air conditioner on the south wall of Newton Collins's trailer house vibrated noisily as it wheezed out intermittent puffs of cool air. The living room where Newt was sitting was dark, as were most of the other homes in Bordelaise. But that was as it should be, considering it was after midnight. The only other sound in the room was the steady slapping sound of flesh against flesh as Newt pumped his erection with rock-solid rhythm.
His lips were slack, his gaze locked on the flickering light of his computer screen, which showed the innocent faces of the pretty little boys cavorting on a trampoline. That the little boys were nude was just icing on the cake.
Outside, a passing car suddenly backfired, jarring Newt's concentration. Afraid he would lose his erection, he tugged harder, which distracted his vibe even more. Despite his best efforts, his cock finally went limp. He groaned, then cursed. Now he either spent a night with frustrated dreams, or got up and did something about it.
Even though he was reluctant to leave the comfort of his trailer for the muggy heat of a Louisiana night, he could no more control the urge for satisfaction than he could understand why only pretty little boys got him off.
He dragged himself up from his recliner and began to dress. One positive note about being forty-seven years old and attracted only to little boys was that he didn't need to worry much about his appearance. Women would have been put off by his paunch, narrow-set green eyes and brown, thinning hair. He knew his chin was receding and his nose was too large for his face, but he didn't care. He had no interest in attracting women. They didn't attract him. Why bother to fight it?
By the time he was reaching for his shoes, he was already getting amped just thinking about what came next. He palmed his car keys and headed out the door.
There was an all-night quick stop near the middle of town, and from there it was only two blocks to J.R. and Katie Earle's house. However, he had no interest in the couple who lived there, other than to make sure they didn't know about his midnight runs. For Newt, it was their seven-year-old little boy, Bobby, who was the draw.
But he had to be careful to just look and not touch. He had done time in the California justice system for child molestation, but after leaving the state a few years earlier, he had managed to slip under the radar by keeping his hands to and on himself. His job as a bus mechanic for the Bordelaise School District was the perfect environment for a man with his particular tastes. He was getting paid for a specific skill with engines, with an added bonus of free looks at an endless array of little boys in the school right next door.
Once outside, he broke into an instant sweat from the heat and humidity, and promised himself that when he got to Pinky's Get and Go, he'd buy himself a good, cold Pepsi, and maybe a Snickers bar to go with it. Nothing wrong with adding a little caffeine to the titillation he was seeking.
He got into his truck and started the engine, then quickly switched on the air-conditioning as he drove out of Walker's Trailer Park. Just thinking about Bobby Earle upped his pulse.
When he got to Pinky's, he parked off to the side of the building, away from the single streetlight, and walked inside. As usual, Pinky Barton was behind the counter.
Pinky owned the store and worked the night shift. His wife, Tina, worked the day shift. They attributed their forty-year marriage to the fact that the only time they crossed paths was coming and going from the store.
"How's it going?" Pinky asked, as Newt walked inside.
"Good enough. Couldn't sleep, though," Newt said, as he took a cold bottle of Pepsi from the cooler. He stopped on the way back to the checkout counter and grabbed a can of Vienna sausages.
"Yeah, I hear ya," Pinky said. "Damn heat and humidity. Ain't good for nothin' but skeeters and gators."
Newt didn't have an argument for that.
The yellow tint of neon lights behind the counter reflected off Pinky's bald head as Newt set his cold pop and canned meat on the counter.
"Add a candy bar to that," Newt said, as he flipped a ten-dollar bill onto the counter, chose a Snickers off the shelf beside the register, tore the end off the wrapper and took a big bite while he waited for his change.
"Take it easy," Pinky said, as Newt stuffed the change in his pocket and headed for the door.
"You, too," Newt said, and walked back toward his truck.
But he didn't get in. He cast a quick glance around the area, making sure none of the local cop cars were cruising nearby, then disappeared into the shadows. By the time he got to the street where the Earles lived, he'd finished his candy and was downing the last of his pop. He paused on the sidewalk, giving the neighborhood the once-over. All the house lights were out except for a second-story window down the block.
Newt knew who lived there and that the presence of an upstairs light posed no threat. That was Carlton Weaver's house. Old Carl was a widower with a penchant for women with big boobs. If the light was on, that meant Carl was still up watching the Playboy Channel, which meant he wouldn't give a shit about what was going on outside his house.
Newt glanced up and down the empty streets one last time, then took it as a sign it was time to make his move into the alley that ran behind the Earles' white frame house.
A few yards down, he tossed the empty pop bottle and candy wrapper into a trash can, then popped the top on the can of Vienna sausages. He knew the scent was going to reach the dog in the next backyard before he did, just like he also knew that the routine he'd fostered would keep Old Sounder from barking.
Sure enough, as he moved toward the back of the fence, he heard the dog whine in anticipation.
"Hey, boy," he whispered, then paused long enough to dump the meat into the yard.
The old hunting dog was still licking his lips when Newt lifted the lid on the garbage can to dispose of the tin, then ducked behind a hedge and into the Earles' backyard.
Their one-story house was dark except for a dim yellow light coming from the bedroom window on the south side. His heartbeat accelerated, knowing that butter-yellow glow came from a teddy bear night-light in Bobby's room. He would not have been interested in the fact that J.R. had been making love to his wife in the bedroom on the other side of the house, or that he was being watched by a pair of barn owls up in the tree above his head. His entire focus was on getting to that window.
He could hear the steady hum of the air-conditioning unit near the back door, as well as the familiar night sounds of singing crickets and tree frogs. By the time he got to Bobby's window, he had the beginnings of another erection. Hoping that the shade had not been pulled, he stepped behind a pair of lush pink azalea bushes in full bloom and peered into the window, then ran his hand down the front of his pants.
The sheers were pulled back and the shade was more than halfway up, giving Newt an unobstructed view into the room. He could see the little boy's dark, tousled hair against the white of the pillowcase, and one bare arm sticking out from under the covers. He smiled, seeing the brown, floppy teddy bear Bobby clutched beneath his arm. Newt once had one just like that, which strengthened his connection to the child even more.
Anxious to get down to business, he began masturbating, using the fantasy connection to the child as his high.
When the climax came upon him, he groaned and slumped forward—farther than he'd meant to, hitting his shoulder against the side of the house so hard that it rattled the window.
"Shit, shit, shit," he muttered, as he frantically pushed himself back from the wall, then looked up.
To his shock, Bobby Earle was sitting up in bed and staring at him through the curtains with a wide-eyed, panicked expression on his face.
Newt didn't know that to Bobby, the face appeared to be that of a monster—a monster that was surely coming through his window. For a few frantic seconds they stared at each other. The frightened tears running down Bobby's face gave Newt a new kind of high, but when he saw the little boy's mouth suddenly open wide, he knew enough to run before the scream that came afterward. And he did run.
Out of the yard.
Down the alley.
Out onto the sidewalk.
Down the street to his truck, which was still parked in the shadows at Pinky's Get and Go.
By the time he got back to the trailer park, he was fairly confident he'd gotten away without being seen. He crawled into bed and quickly fell asleep, unconcerned about the chaos he'd created.
"Mommmeee! Mommmeee. Help! Help!"
Katie was awake and running out of the bedroom almost before her eyes were open. The screams coming from her son's bedroom had nearly stopped her heart. J.R. was right behind her, scared half out of his mind. They burst into Bobby's room within seconds of each other.
J.R. turned on the light just as Bobby came up from his bed and leaped into Katie's arms. Katie staggered from the impact, and they would have tumbled to the floor together if J.R. hadn't caught them.
"We're here, honey…we're here," Katie soothed, as Bobby's arms snaked around her neck, his little hands fisted in the tangled length of her hair. She turned around and sat down on the side of the bed with him still in her lap. "What's wrong? Did you have a bad dream?" she asked.
"No! No!" he sobbed, burying his face against her neck. "The monster! The monster! He was coming in my window to get me!"
J.R. looked toward the window and frowned. It sounded like a bad dream, but Bobby'd had bad dreams before without this kind of frantic reaction.
Like J.R., Katie glanced toward the window. She didn't see any shadows, or anything that would have made him think of monsters. All she saw was darkness between the sheers on either side of the window. It was then she realized they hadn't drawn the shades.