Authors: Patricia MacDonald
Table of Contents
Recent Titles by Patricia MacDonald
STRANGER IN THE HOUSE
NO WAY HOME
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
MARRIED TO A STRANGER
STOLEN IN THE NIGHT
FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE *
CAST INTO DOUBT *
MISSING CHILD *
*available from Severn House
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First world edition published 2012
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2012 by Patricia Bourgeau.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
MacDonald, Patricia J.
1. Missing children—Fiction. 2. Stepfamilies—Fiction.
3. Suspense fiction.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-212-2 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8120-5 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-413-4 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being
described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this
publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons
is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
To our dear friends and neighbors,
Karen and Yogi Kurtz
aitlin stood up and shook hands with the long-haired Asian girl in black-rimmed glasses who had been seated in front of her desk. ‘Giang,’ Caitlin said, ‘I think we are going to be a very good fit for you.’ Caitlin handed her a business card.
‘I want you to call and make an appointment for your parents with this gentleman in the financial aid office. He will be able to help you sort out an aid package.’
Giang looked uneasily at the card. ‘My parents don’t speak any English,’ she said.
‘You can sit in on the meeting and translate for them,’ said Caitlin. ‘Brunswick University needs students of your caliber. We’ll do all we can to make it work for you.’
Giang beamed. ‘Thank you, Mrs Rogers,’ she said.
‘It’s Miss,’ said Caitlin. ‘And trust me, the pleasure was mine.’
Caitlin watched as the petite, blue jean-clad high school senior left the minority recruitment office. She had given a presentation at Giang’s inner-city school in Philadelphia recently, and had spoken to a number of likely prospects from that disadvantaged environment. Caitlin was the director for diversity recruitment at Brunswick University, and it was her job to seek out and encourage low-income minority students to fulfill their dreams of college at Brunswick. Sometimes she saw herself as a one-woman rescue operation, helping kids find a way out of poverty and into a brighter future. She felt lucky to have work that was meaningful to her.
‘She was a cute one,’ said Beverly, Caitlin’s receptionist. Beverly had four kids of her own, and a heart big enough to accommodate every student at Brunswick, and then some.
‘I hope she decides to come here,’ said Caitlin. ‘I sent her to financial aid. She needs help applying for scholarships, but I think it will work out for her. She’s very motivated.’
‘We like them motivated,’ said Beverly. ‘Speaking of motivated, how’s your brother doing with that therapist?’
Caitlin sighed. Her brother James was, at sixteen years old, twelve years Caitlin’s junior and had been assigned to therapy by family court. He had lost his provisional driver’s permit for being caught trying to buy beer in a convenience store. He was suspended from school for fighting and he had a problem with prescription drugs – for which he had no prescription. She did not know where he got his supply, and he denied ever using the drugs she found in his room.
She tried not to judge him too harshly. She and James were still reeling from the death of their parents, who had both succumbed to illness in the past two years. Caitlin, who had been on staff at an Ivy League school in New England, was forced to come home, move into her parents’ house and assume the role of her brother’s guardian. It had turned out to be a heavy responsibility. ‘Well, this is only the second visit. Last week was mostly filling out paperwork and family history. We’ll see,’ she said.
‘Sixteen is such a tough age,’ said Beverly. ‘And he is really kind of isolated around here.’
‘I know,’ said Caitlin. ‘He hasn’t made any friends yet.’ Their parents had raised them in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia, and they had bought the house in among the marshes and inlets of South Jersey as a retirement home. But they decided to make the move early when James began getting into trouble in high school. In Coatesville, James had a girlfriend named Karla, a biracial girl who ended up busted for drugs and serving time in a juvenile facility. Caitlin’s parents had hoped that by removing James from Coatesville, they would get him away from Karla and his other troublemaking friends. Instead, James managed to get into even more trouble on his own.
‘It’s hard on you,’ Beverly said sympathetically. ‘How are you supposed to have a life of your own when you’re running around from counselors to lawyers to school? You’re a young woman. You need to meet somebody and have some fun.’
‘One of these days,’ said Caitlin.
‘Well, you can’t wait too long,’ said Beverly. ‘Not if you want to have kids.’
‘I’ll tell you something. After this business with James, I’m not sure kids are for me.’
‘Oh, don’t say that. It’s different when they’re your own. Speaking of which,’ said Beverly, gathering up her purse and shopping bag, ‘I’ve got to go pick up my youngest and get home. It’s pizza night.’
‘Probably pizza night for us, too,’ said Caitlin. She waved to her assistant as Beverly left the office. Then, with a sigh, Caitlin filled out the paperwork about her last interview, and closed up her office as well.
The fact was that Beverly was right, Caitlin thought as she got into her car in the waning light of the November afternoon. She felt as if she had no life here, other than trying to deal with her brother’s issues. When their mother died, leaving James alone, Caitlin had considered moving her brother up to where she lived in New England. But she hadn’t wanted to dislocate him again, after all the loss and change that he had been through. Sometimes, she was not sure if she had made the right decision. She had made a life for herself and friends in New England. Here, she felt completely isolated.
The deserted marshes and pine forests of South Jersey under a melancholy gray, salmon and lavender sky reflected her mood. This whole part of South Jersey was, at once, scenic and down at the heels. She drove past a lovely field with horses grazing on the brown grass. But there was a rusted-out car beside the barn, and the barn had a hole in the roof.
When her father took early retirement, he had planned to hunt and fish and her mother was looking forward to taking a book to the beach on nice days. They had hoped that perhaps James would abandon his bad habits and start again. And they could enjoy their hard-earned free time. That was their plan, but they miscalculated. Now, they were both gone, and Caitlin had inherited their retirement cottage and their problems. If only, she thought, James would show some improvement, it might not seem like such an uphill battle. But most of the time he was depressed, and didn’t talk to her. It was as if she was living with a wraith who silently inhabited the house, drifting from room to room.
Caitlin pulled into the driveway of the neat, square little home that her parents had furnished and cared for with such high hopes. All the lights were out and the house looked forlorn. Her father’s pick-up truck, normally kept in the garage, was parked in the driveway, and Caitlin instantly felt angry and anxious. James’s driving permit was suspended. He had better not have been out driving, she thought.
Don’t jump to conclusions, she told herself. You asked him to clean out the garage while he was suspended. Maybe he moved the truck out to get easier access to the jumbled mess in there. She didn’t feel very optimistic about the possibility, but she reminded herself to try to be patient, and not jump to the worst conclusion.
Caitlin walked into the house and was startled by James, who was sitting in the living room without a single light on. She turned on a lamp and frowned at him. ‘What are you doing sitting here in the dark?’ she asked.
He looked at her, grave and hollow-eyed. ‘Nothing,’ he said.
‘Do you want to tell me what Daddy’s truck is doing in the driveway?’
‘I just . . . moved it,’ he said.
‘You weren’t out driving, I hope. You know you have no permit.’
‘I know,’ he said.
‘OK,’ she said. She decided not to make an issue of it. ‘As long as you know.’ She set her briefcase down on a chair, took off her jacket and hung it up. ‘I’m going to see what I can put together for us for supper. You better go get a shirt on over that T-shirt and put some shoes on.’
‘What for?’ he asked.
‘James. The therapist. That’s tonight.’
James did not reply.
‘Go on. Go get ready,’ she said. She glanced at the clock. Too late to wait for a pizza delivery. She opened a can of soup and began to heat it on the stove. She pulled out plates and put sandwiches together.
She looked up and saw him standing in the doorway to the kitchen. ‘What?’
‘I don’t think I can go tonight,’ he said.
‘I don’t feel well,’ he said.
In the bright, overhead light of the kitchen, she could see that he did indeed look ill. His skin was white and his eyes were sunken in his head. She put a hand on his forehead beneath his shock of greasy hair. He was not feverish. If anything, his skin was cold and clammy.
‘You don’t look too good,’ she admitted.
‘I have to go lie down,’ he said.
Caitlin sighed. ‘All right. I’ll call and cancel.’
James disappeared from the doorway and Caitlin called the therapist’s office.
‘If you cancel,’ said the receptionist, ‘you’ll still have to pay for the session.’
‘OK, fine,’ said Caitlin. ‘Send me the bill.’
She hung up the phone and called out to her brother. ‘Do you want some soup? Or a sandwich?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m not hungry.’
Caitlin exhaled, and turned on the television to keep her company while she ate. On the news, the anchor was recounting the death of a young mother, the victim of a hit-and-run driver on Route 47, about ten minutes from where they lived. Caitlin was too distracted to pay much attention. As usual, she was worrying about James and wondering how she was ever going to get through to him. After she finished her supper, Caitlin switched off the tele-vision, and washed up her few dishes. She looked out the kitchen window at the truck which was still in the driveway. She wondered if James had made any attempt to clean out the garage. She went through the hallway off the kitchen and called out to him.