DAW Books, Inc.
Donald A. Wollheim, Founder
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
DAW's Blockbuster Thrillers from
Copyright © 1998 by Elizabeth Forrest.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1084.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Putnam Inc.
Microsoft LIT edition ISBN: 0-7420-9041-8
Adobe PDF edition ISBN: 0-7420-9042-6
Palm PDB edition ISBN: 0-7420-9043-4
MobiPocket edition ISBN: 0-7420-9044-2
Ebook editions produced by
SEATTLE BOOK COMPANY
Ebook conversion and distribution powered bywww.RosettaMachine.com
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Electronic format made
available by arrangement with
Dedicated to those who suffered and we lost, and to those who suffered and we still are able to cherish…
Ryck Kirby, gone too soon, and
Gary Lee Sutton, for his sharing his love of tennis and teaching as long as he was able…
Jim Klohs, with our continued prayers…
Marj and Marty Azarow and Teren Guyan for sharing their experiences with me.
To my beloved Furr People:
Mason, Tyger, Princess Stinky… Rex, Willow, Sylvester, Junior, Melody, Pogo, Solo, Goliath, Star, Peggy, Hoppy, Mac, Jeannie, Buffy, Blaze, Raffles, Banjo and Dandy.
I gratefully acknowledge the following for their help, friendship and expertise:
Dr. Dick Salsitz and his wife Tanya
Kirk Miller and the Open Door Gallery of Tustin
The colony of Laguna Beach
And, especially, Canine Companions for
Table of Contents
She heard the cry through the thickness of her dreams and though it woke her, she lay for a moment, eyes still shut, wondering whether she had really heard something or not. Her skin felt more awake than the rest of her— warm, soft and yet raw, and she became aware that she nestled spooned against another body under the sheets, their naked forms intimately close. The realization jolted through her, waking her more quickly than even the thin sound of her daughter's voice as she called again.
She rolled out of the nest they had made, quickly and surely reaching for the worn robe she had tossed on the foot of the bed, taking care not to wake the man she left behind. As she belted the robe, she could smell him on her flushed skin, the perfume of their lovemaking surrounding her, and as she worried about her daughter, she also gloried in the rareness of the visitor, of the sensuality, of what they had shared. Mary took care to tuck the blankets in and about him, reluctant to let the bed cool while she went to see what troubled Charlie.
They had left most of the windows open, and a brisk sea-salt scented wind had chilled the small house down considerably. Mary pulled her robe a little tighter, and made a mental note to shut most of them before she returned to bed. If she returned to bed.
Charlie, who had always had a precocious ability to see in the dark, stirred the moment she reached the doorway of the tiny bedroom. She gave a little sigh.
"I'm sorry, Mommy."
Mary found the edge of the bed and sat on it, reaching out to search for her daughter's face, but Charlie caught up her hand immediately and held onto it. "It's all right, honey," she soothed. Her daughter's hand felt cool in hers. She could feel the rasp of whisker burn across her cheeks from Quentin's ardor, and she flushed at the thought that her daughter might see it on her face. She curled her fingers tightly about Charlie. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"Awful." Charlie shuddered and though her slender, wiry body scarcely filled the day bed, it trembled with her movement. "Is it midnight yet?"
"I'm sorry, honey. Not quite." Mary bent low over her as she murmured, "It'll be fine." She tried not to let worry seep into her voice as she stroked Charlie's tangled hair away from her face with her free hand. So many bad dreams… and other things… happening to Charlie. She had precious little coverage in health insurance since Reynold had died, and their main doctor had seemed unconcerned. But Mary felt a wrongness in Charlie that seemed to cut through her, and worry bled right after it. "Can you tell me about it?"
"No," whispered Charlie hoarsely, tightly.
Her fingers felt like ice in Mary's. She rubbed them slightly, then pulled the blankets up higher and more firmly around her daughter's wiry, ten-year-old frame. "Sometimes it helps if you talk about it."
"No words," returned Charlie, and then panted a little as if even that had taken effort to say.
"Do you want me to turn on the light?"
Charlie shook her head. Mary felt it rather than saw it. "All right, hon. I can tell you a story."
Another quiet pant. Then, "Sing."
Mary hesitated, then pitched her voice quietly and began to sing "This Old Man," one of Charlie's favorites. "This old man, he had none, he played knick-knack on his thumb…" her voice went spinning into the night air.
When she had finished, there was a long silence. Her daughter still lay awake, barely warming to her touch. Mary was tired, and felt guilty that she wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed, her shared bed, this night. She sighed in spite of herself, and Charlie flinched at the sound.
"Is he still here?"
Mary hesitated a moment, then answered, "Yes, honey, Quentin is still here."
"Good." Charlie squeezed her hand, some warmth finally seeming to return to her. "He'll keep us safe."
"Do you think so?"
"Oh, yes! Like Daddy did." Charlie scooted closer to her, curling her body about Mary's hip. "Is he going to stay a lot?"
"Maybe." Quentin had talked softly to her about marriage while they had made love, but she discounted that for the passion they shared. Morning would tell her if he meant it or not. "Would you like that?" She moved a long, wispy strand of Charlie's hair behind her ear. She wanted to be in bed with Quentin in the morning.
"I think so."
There was a slightly dubious note to her answer, no less than the doubt in her heart, but it had been years since Reynold died. She wondered how Charlie could even remember her father, as her own memories of her husband faded. Mary put the back of her hand to Charlie's forehead, felt it still clammy.
"Are you feeling better, honey?"
"Yes." Charlie took a deep breath. "Can you get me a new canvas tomorrow? And paint, I need more paint."
Charlie, who never asked for anything, did not hesitate to ask for this. Mary stared across the dim view of the small Laguna bungalow, mentally drumming up a picture of her checkbook. She could get it if Charlie did not want too many tubes. She would have to budget their grocery money very carefully till the monthly death benefit check came in, but she thought she could manage even though her own paychecks were meager. "All right, love," she whispered toward Charlie's delicate, shell-like ear. "In the morning."
"I don't know what colors… I need to see the brochure again. When I see them, I'll know."
The art store they shopped at had given her brochures for each paint manufacturer, their color palettes spread across glossy pages in a near rainbow infinity of availability. Charlie, who had never had art lessons, and who painted with an intensity of genius, did not know the names of many of the colors until she seized upon their likeness in the brochure. And when Mary took her to the art store tomorrow, as Mary knew she would do, Charlie would often wander off and ask questions about the paints, the undercoats, the preparations, the combinations, and sometimes come back with a request for another tube or two. But she never asked for anything she did not use.
Mary found herself smiling in the night. "I know you'll know," she answered. She leaned forward still more until her lips brushed Charlie's face, and she kissed her daughter. Charlie's breathing had already begun to slow and deepen, as she fell back into sleep. She wondered what Charlie would paint, knowing that this was how her daughter coped with the overwhelming feelings of loss and fear they had both been plunged into… the dreams that brought both terrible nightmares and soaring hope to her child… and once she committed them to canvas, Charlie would sleep well again for days, sometimes weeks. Her daughter's breathing grew even more regular. So quickly, Mary thought, so deeply. Did children ever realize how wonderful it was to sleep so easily?
She would not leave till her daughter's fingers went limp in hers, and the breathing became a gentle purr.
In the morning, Quentin would wake, and ask Mary again, his proposal heartfelt, and her answer even more so.
And Charlie would miss the first half of a school day while she pondered her choices from the brochure and again at the art supply shop, finally selecting a handful of vivid paints: yellows, oranges, violets, and whites.
And all that week she would work with fever pitch on a painting that took Mary's breath away, and she decided finally that she had to show someone else her daughter's paintings, that even in a colony of the talented like Laguna Beach she had to know and understand what Charlie was doing.
The art supply shop manager would gasp when he saw what Charlie had finished, and chide Mary for carrying it about when the paint was still drying and the surface could be marred, and he'd place a call to a local, well-known gallery owner who would drive over immediately in his BMW and pale when he saw what Charlie had painted. Charlie would stand in quiet ten-year-old shyness and say little until the owner asked her what paints she had used, and then she would rattle them off.
"Do you have any more like this?" the gallery owner would ask keenly.
Charlie would hesitate a moment and then answer, "Not like that."
Her mother would say quickly, "She has filled my screened porch with paintings."
And Charlie would look at her intently, then flush slightly with embarrassment or firmness, as she disagreed, saying, "Not like that. It is the first of three."
"Three?" the gallery owner would prompt.
"There will be three of them," Charlie would answer forthrightly.
"A trilogy!" the gallery owner would respond in delight.