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Authors: Midnight Hour

Robards, Karen

The Midnight Hour

By: Karen Robards

 

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-I’H E M 11) N I G HT 1-10 tTR

,%nother thrilling story Of Suspense and romance from iren Robards, who can be counted on to always do a good story and keep you interested on every page.-

-Roinance Rcvicivs

“Sensual … enjoyably light and airy.” -Booklist

“Absorbing … The suspense keeps growing until t ie very end of the book. The characters feel genuine,
specially Grace’s concern with her teenage daughter’s

aberrant behavior. Fans of romantic suspense will heartily enjoy Ms. Robards’ newest book.” -Harriet YJausner, Painted Rock Revieivs

-,ernarkable! Once again, Ms. Pobards brings us one unforgettable story.”

-Bell, Book and Candle

“A tightly written mystery/rorriance … Definitely a keeper.”

-Rendezvous

”Ms. Robards, a powerful storyteHer, has masterfully -)ven a nerve-shattering tale of suspense that explodes ,,tth passion. It is fascinating and intriguing to observe

1t,r characters as they grope through the maze of clues

trying to discover the stalker. The conclusion is thrillingly unanticipated.”

-Old Book Barn Gazette

“A tale of stalking and romantic intrigue.” -People

“Steamy romantic scenes.”

-Publisliers Weekly

 

Dell Books by Karen Robards

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR.

THE SENATOR’S WIFE

HEARTBREAKER.

HUNTER’S MOON

WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT

MAGGY’S CHILD

ONE SUMMER

NOBODY’S ANGEL

THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN

FORBIDDEN LOVE

SEA FIRE

ISLAND FLAME

KAREN ROBARDS

A Dell Book

 

S

P14blished by Dell Publishit

a dh4sion (it’ Random House, Inc.

1540 Broadway

,Nieu, York, New York 10036

This novel is a work, of.fiction. Naines, characters, plaCeS, and incidents either are the, product of the author’s imagination or arc used.fictitiouslY.

A ny resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

If ),On purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received (illy

payinentfiff this “stripped book.”

Copyrqht D 1999 by Karen Robards

All rqhts reserved. No part qfthis book may be reproduced or transmitted in auyfiorm or II)y any means, electronic or methanical, including photocopying, recordhQ, or by any itilormation storqgf, and

retrieval system, u4thout tile written permission qfthe Publisher, except where pernutted by laiv. For iqformatiou address: Delacorte Press, Neu, York, New York.

De/10 is a r(:qistered tradernark, ofkandont House, In(-., and the colophon is a tradernark, (!f Random Housc, In,.

ISBN: 0-440-22504-3

Reprinted by arratTement with Delacortc Press

Printed in the United States ofAinerica

lInblWied sitnultaueously in Canada

October 1999

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 -3 2 1 WCD

to I

This book is dedicated to illy parents, Pete and Safly Johnson,

with love.

It is also dedicated, as always, to the men in my life: my husband, Doug;

and my sons,

Peter, Christopher, and Jack.

Chapter
1

FfEP-E DO YOU THINK you’re going?” The sound of his mother’s voice affected him like fingernails scraping across a blackboard. His skin prickled, and he shuddered slightly. Turning to face her, he felt oceans of hostility surge through his veins. He hated her… .

“Out.” His hand rested on the doorknob. She stood there glaring at him, arms crossed over the chest of her pink-flowered cotton robe. Her dyed-black hair was short and spiky with interrupted sleep. Her olive skin was creased with fifty-five years’ worth of sun worship, and worse. Without makeup to hide them, the bags under her eyes were as big and purple as grapes. Her neck was thin and wattled like a turkey’s. She wore little white sock-things on her feet, and above them her legs were bare and scrawny, with big varicose veins twining like vines just below her knees.

She was ugly… .

“It’s after midnight. You’re not going anywhere!” They were standing in the oldfashioned kitchen. It

 

2 KAREN ROBARDS

was long and narrow, with a faux brick linoleum floor and faux marble countertops. The cabinets were of plywood stained to look like oak. A scarred round table with four rickety-legged chairs took pride of place in the center of the room. On the table, there was a bowl of green plastic apples, the same apples that had been there since he could remember. Overhead, the illunu nation was provided by a single fluorescent fixture.

“You off your Prozac, Ma?” The drawled question was mocking. He turned away from her, turning the knob. He had thought to get out without waking her. Usually she slept like the dead, snoring like a drunk in the master bedroom just off the kitchen. Maybe she’d been listening to Jay Leno. She had the hots for Leno, preferred him to Letterman. But usually she fell asleep before he came on.

“I said you’re not going anywhere! You’re seventeen years old, and you’re living under my roof, and you’ll do as I say! IT tell your father… .” She was shriller than ever, shrieking shrill, as he ignored her, opening the door and running down the back steps into the welcoming night. The door slammed behind him, cutting her off in midtirade.

I’ll tell yourfather … Big threat. It almost made him laugh. His father, the big-shot attorney who made his living suing people for a percentage of the award, was gone five days a week-in a slow week. When he got home, all he wanted to hear about was how many points Donny, jr., had scored in his basketball game, or whether Donny, jr., was gonna make the all-A honor roll again, like he usually did.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR 3

Big Don barely spared a glance, much less a word, for his younger son.

He’d known for years that as far as most peopleincluding his Parents-were concerned, he was the moon to Donny’s sun. Nobody saw him when the golden boy was around.

But the long hours after midnight belonged to him. The warm, windy darkness embraced him as he rofled his Honda 250 from the garage, straddled it, and took off with a roar down the driveway,

He smiled faintly as he pointed the bike toward his destination.

The sun had set now, and Donny’s little brother had come out to play.

Chapter
2

T WAS JUST AFTER TWO A.m., and Jessica’s bed was t/empty. I]

Light from the hall spi led over the tumbled bed, leaving the rest of the room deep in shadow. Grace Hart didn’t even bother to switch on the overhead light. Her tafl, thin figure cast an elongated shadow across the pale rose carpet for no more than an instant. Then she moved-Three quick strides brought her to her daughter’s bedside. She yanked the covers clear to the foot of the bed just to make sure, but she already knew what she would find: nothing.

Jessica was not curled up in a tight little ball beneath the primrose comforter. A hasty glance around confirmed thatJessica was not in the tweedy pink armchair in the corner, or at her white-and-gold desk, or sprawled out with a pillow on the carpet. Grace didn’t even have to check to know that Jessica was not in the connecting bathrooiri, or downstairs in the kitchen… . or, in fact, anywhere in the house.

Her fifteen-year-old daughter had snuck out.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR 5 Again.

011, God, Grace thought, staring blindly at the empty bed, what am ]going to do?

There was no one but Cod to ask. She and Jessica lived alone. Grace loved her daughter more than life itself:—but lately she had grown terrified that she was losing her. This was the third time in the past two months that she had been awakened-by what? a stealthy sound? a bad dream? she didn’t know-and risen from her bed to check on Jessica, only to find her daughter gone.

It was Monday night-no, Tuesday morning now. A school day. Jessica had to be up at 6:45 A.M. She had a Spanish test first period. Just before bedtime, Grace had spent an hour listening to her daughter conjugate verbs. The test counted double, and a good score could bring her C in that class up to an A,

which would be enough to get her on the honor roll. They had both agreed that making the honor roll in high school was important, and Grace, at least, had beenlpsyched about Jessica’s chances-But how was she going to do on the test with no sleep?

Of course, Grace realized even as the question formed in her mind, that was the least of her worries at the moment.

The overriding one was, ivhere’sjc.sica?

She had a Pretty good idea who her daughter was With, if not where she was-Now four weeks into her first year of high school, Jessica had fallen -

crowd, a I I in with a new cOOl” crowd, she said, whose acceptance made her Popular, The girls all wore ffiredjeans, Tilidriff-baring tops, platform shoes, and neori-striped hair.

 

6 KAREN ROBARDS

i race had worn he (Talk about &ja vu all over again: G

same kind of thing, rninus the Day-Glo hair streaks, when she was in high school. But as Jess pointed out, les were hot again.) Anyway, as far as Grace

the sevent this particular gaggle of girls was bad was concerned, g toward a bad end_ it scared her news rushing headlon . weet Jessica, was going to realize that Jessica, her own s ith them if Grace to find that bad end right along w

couldn’t manage to stop her.

for Jessica’s allegiance, the score So far, tj-je wai

I ided had lost every batwas d’shearteningly lops - Moll’

tle. by a soft whirring sound madeA rattle followed

Grace jump-She glanced around. “Jessica?”

There was no answer. the a rnom,nt for Grace to I

it took only d: Goazilla in his exeyclse wheel. source of the soun ster whose cage sat atop Jessica’s The fat golden ham ous, to the absence bookshelf was running busily, oblivi

of his mistress or her mother’s distress. asked. “Where is she, buddy?” Grace grimaced at herself

Godzilla ran blithely on-Grace

Talking to a hamster was sad, she thought, and having nothing but a haryister to talk to at a time of crisis like this was even sadder. At age thirty-six, she had, besides

n an ex-husband, and a her daughter, a sister, a father, but no one she could raft of friends and acquaintances,

o ,.m. The pattern had pick up the phone and call at tw

been set for years: she listened to their problems, not vice versa. all their lives. The fixer, she was the strong one in

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR 7

the problen i -solver, the one whose life was always under control.

Usually she was okay with that. But not tonight. Crossing to one of the pair of tall windows that overlooked the front yard, she parted the ruffled pinkplaid curtains, rested her forehead against a cool glass pane, and shut her eyes. Her knee-length blue nylon nightgown had long sleeves, but still she was cold. She folded her arms over her chest, but that didn’t help.

“at ant I doing wrong? The unspoken question reeated itself over and over in time with the pulse p I I I

throbbing in her head. Trying to ease the pounding, she massaged her temples with her fingertips, then ran her fingers despairingly through her short, blondstreaked brown shag. I love her so. I’m trying my best. “at am I doing wrong?

In her position as a Franklin County juvenile and Domestic Court ‘udge, she dealt with problem children on a da-ily basis. It was a rare session in court when she was not confronted with teens who were out of control.

Usually the kid’s problem mirrored some kind of I

breakdown in the family—

Was that why it was so hard to acknowledge that her daughter was rocketing down the same path as the kids who appeared before her every day? Because she would then have to blame herselP

Was it not the unpalatable truth that she was as much a failure as a parent as any of those whose children were hauled into her courtrooms

She loved her daughter so much. She would kill for her. She would die for her. Every success she’d ever

 

KAREN ROBARDS

achieved for Jessica. How, had in her life had been e to this? How was possithen, could they have 1m th ble for her to have succeeded in providing Jessica W, everything she herself had longed for as a child, yet still have managed to lose Jessica along the way?

ewhere drinking? This new Was Jess out there som

reason for fear suddenly popped full-blown into nd, washing over every other consideration Grace’s mi des on the beach. like an ocean swell hitting sand cas asn’t. She refused Jessica had to be so careful-but she w

to be. ck out with the crowd, she’d The last time she’d snu gh of course she come home smelling of booze-Althou

had denied drinking more than a couple of sips from a friend’s can of beer; someone had spilled the rest over her clothes, she’d said, to account for the smell.

Yeah, right_ As much as Grace longed to believe it, that story didn’t ring true. if a kid told her that in her courtroom, she wouldn’t have swallowed a word.

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