Read Thicker Than Water Online

Authors: Maggie Shayne

Thicker Than Water

It was called a haven for runaway teens. In truth, it was a nightmare, one
that ended in fiery violence sixteen years ago. Or so its survivors believed…

Syracuse news anchor Julie Jones is afraid. Her long-dead past was
resurrected when a blackmailer threatened to expose secrets that could destroy her. Then
the man was found dead—his throat cut with a knife from Julie's own kitchen. Now a new,
faceless enemy wants more than money. This time Julie stands to lose the most precious
thing of all—her teenage daughter, Dawn.

Julie finds herself with one unlikely ally, Sean MacKenzie. A journalist with a flair for the sensational, Sean covers the worst humanity has to offer. Julie Jones is hiding something that terrifies her, and he's determined to find out what. He just can't decide whether his goal is to expose her or save her.

Julie will do anything to protect her daughter. But someone else is watching, willing to do whatever it takes to avenge a past that cannot be forgotten.

Originally published in 2005.

Mordecai Young Series:

Thicker Than Water (Book 1)

Colder Than Ice (Book 2)

Darker Than Midnight (Book 3)

Praise for the novels of

“A tasty, tension-packed read.”

—Publishers Weekly
Thicker Than Water

“Maggie Shayne demonstrates an absolutely superb touch, blending fantasy and romance into an outstanding reading experience.”

—Romantic Times
Embrace the Twilight

“Maggie Shayne is better than chocolate. She satisfies every wicked craving.”

—Bestselling author Suzanne Forster

“Maggie Shayne delivers sheer delight, and fans new and old of her vampire series can rejoice.”

—Romantic Times
Twilight Hunger

“Shayne's haunting tale is intricately woven…. A moving mix of high suspense and romance, this haunting Halloween thriller will propel readers to bolt their doors at night!”

—Publishers Weekly
The Gingerbread Man

“Shayne's talent knows no bounds!”


“Maggie Shayne delivers romance with sweeping intensity and bewitching passion.”

—Bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz

“Shayne's gift has made her one of the preeminent voices in paranormal romance today!”

—Romantic Times



Wings in the Night series













Only from MIRA Books


This book would not have happened if not for the assistance of some very special people, and I wish to acknowledge and thank them. I dedicate this book to the following wonderful, talented people. I feel lucky to share the planet with every one of them.

To Gayle Wilson, whose words of wisdom broke the dam! I was stuck fast, but you inspired me at NJRW, 2002.

To Molly Herwood, who went above and beyond to help me find the information I needed.

To WTVH-5's Maureen Greene and Melissa Medalie, who helped me get inside the head of a news anchor. To photojournalists John and Al, who changed my entire concept of this book's hero. And to everyone else in the newsroom at WTVH-5 Syracuse, for your invaluable assistance and inspiration.

To David O. Norris, veteran cop, skilled P.I. and Captain of the
Genesee Belle
for unwavering support and tireless advice, and for helping me get the “cop stuff” right.

To my precious husband, Rick, who stands between me and the world like a suit of armor. Without you, I'd be done for.

I'd also like to thank those I think of as “my team.” My agent, Eileen Fallon, for her solid guidance, wise advice and for her steady hands at the helm of my career. My editors: Leslie Wainger, who has been in my corner, supporting me and believing in me from the very start, and to Dianne Moggy and Amy Moore-Benson, who had the faith to embrace both sides of this writer's split personality by welcoming both my vampires and my suspense novels into the MIRA family. My editors deserve sainthood for putting up with an author who changes the story
the back cover copy is being written—and never once flinching or complaining.

Thank you, all. My life is richer (and my books are better) because of you.


an't you see that we'll die if we don't get the hell out of here?”

“We won't, Jewel,” Lizzie whispered. “Mordecai would never let anything happen to us. Not to us.” Her voice changed to a singsong kind of coo. “No, he wouldn't. Not to his own baby, would he, Sunshine? No.” She sat cuddling her newborn daughter in the rocking chair Mordecai Young, “the reverend,” had brought into their quarters.

They no longer had to room in the barracks with the other so-called Young Believers. Mordecai Young had moved his special girls into the spacious attic of the main house, where he could be closer to them.

“Lizzie, you're being stupid. You're forgetting the plan.” Jewel paced the length of the large room, growing more and more agitated. “And it was working so damn well.”

Lizzie looked at her and for a moment Jewel thought she saw the sharp mind and clear eyes of the girl her friend had been six months ago. “It was,” Lizzie said. “We made him believe we loved him, didn't we? And it worked.”

worked. Mordecai had made them his right hands. They had access to the house. They ate better. He never hit them anymore.

“But, Jewel, I'm not acting anymore. I love him.”

“He's a criminal. Jesus, Lizzie, he takes in runaways and makes us into slaves. He has armed guards and those dogs of his patrolling the compound in case any of us try to leave. We're fenced in, fed all the drugs he can slip into our food to keep us complacent while we listen to his sermons and cultivate his crops. And you've seen the weapons room. He's got more firepower than the freaking National Guard down there!”

Unmoved by Jewel's impassioned speech, Lizzie stroked a forefinger along her baby's whisper-soft cheek. “He's my daughter's father.”

“He's a drug dealer with a Messiah complex, Lizzie. And this is no place for a baby.” She moved closer, ran a palm over Sunny's silken baby hair. “We have to get out—for

Lizzie closed her eyes. A tear squeezed through her lashes. “I know. I know you're right. I just…I don't think he means to be…I think he really believes the things he tells us.”

Maybe he did, Jewel thought. Maybe he really did believe he was more enlightened than the rest of the world, or that he'd been chosen by God to be his new messenger and ordered to create this compound. And that the marijuana crop didn't do much real harm, and that it was the good he could do with the money it brought in that made it all right in the eyes of the Almighty.

Yeah, maybe he really did believe all that. Which made him insane, and even more dangerous.

“He loves her. It'll kill him to lose her.”

“He wants to control her,” Jewel insisted. “He named her. He sets her schedule. When she eats, when she sleeps, when she's bathed, how often you get to hold her. He sees her as something he owns, just like us.”

“It's just his way.”

Jewel thinned her lips. “Tonight,” she said. “I made a special snack for the dogs. It ought to put them out of commission. We'll tell the guard at the gate that Sunshine is sick and that Mordecai ordered us to get her to a hospital. If he gives us any trouble—” She took the paring knife out of her jeans pocket. “I snatched this from the kitchen tonight.”

“My God, Jewel!” Lizzie's eyes widened. “Why can't we try to go out through the tunnels?”

“How, when he keeps the only key on a chain around his neck?” Jewel put a firm hand on Lizzie's shoulder. “I'm seventeen years old, Lizzie. I am
going to spend the rest of my life in this prison. And neither is she,” she added with a nod at Sunshine. “I love her, too, you know.”

“I know you do.” Lizzie sighed, lifting her eyes. “What about Sirona and Tessa?”

“I don't know. Since he moved them into the main house, he's been visiting us less and less at night. I think he's going to get tired of us soon, anyway. We lose favor, we end up back out in the barracks. And you know that wouldn't be good for the baby.”

“I know.” She looked more sad, though, than afraid. Sad that her lover was spending time with other women. She'd
never minded sharing him with Jewel. But that was different. They were like sisters, the two of them.

“I'd like to take Sirona and Tessa with us, but I'm not sure we can trust them not to run straight to Mordecai if we tell them our plan.”

“I don't like them, anyway,” Lizzie said.

She was pale and far too thin. She'd been bleeding heavily since giving birth—too heavily, in Jewel's opinion, but then again, what did she know? It had been seven weeks. She thought it should have stopped by now. Lizzie wasn't the same spunky, fun-loving girl she'd been when Jewel had met her on the streets. They'd heard rumors of this place, that it was a dream come true for runaways.

It wasn't a dream, it was a nightmare.

They both looked up quickly as they heard his unmistakable footsteps, coming up the stairs. The door opened, and he stood there, with his warm brown eyes, long, mink hair, and neatly trimmed beard. He wore white robes and sandals, and he looked for all the world like Jesus. But when he spoke, the illusion was shattered by his soft Southern twang.

“I need to take li'l Sunshine now. Bedtime.” He smiled as he looked at the baby.

Lizzie kissed her child's forehead and hurried to hand her over to her father. “Good night, my sweet baby.”

Jewel watched him take the baby. He stared down at the child adoringly, his brown eyes softer than ever. “You're a special li'l girl, you know that? The daughter of the Son. You're blessed, my Sunshine. You're blessed.” Then, as he turned and carried the baby away, he began to sing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

“Mordecai,” Jewel said, knowing he would be angry at her interruption, but daring it all the same.

He turned, scowling at her.

“I'm worried about Sunny. Do you really think it's safe for her here, with the drugs and the weapons and all?”

“Do you think I'd risk my only child?” he asked.

She licked her lips. “I just—I overheard you talking to one of the guards today. You said there had been some kind of…government men asking questions in town.”

He walked closer to her, his face gentle—right up until his fist connected with her jaw, knocking her backward to the floor. Lizzie shot to her feet, rushing to where Jewel landed.

“Let that be a lesson to you about eavesdroppin',” Mordecai said. “Haven't I taught you better?”

“I'm sorry,” she whispered, a hand on her face, not daring to get to her feet. Lizzie was leaning over her, hands on her shoulders, but she turned now to the man who stood nearby, cradling the baby in his arms.

“You didn't answer her question, Mordecai. What happens if these government men try to come in here? What we're doing isn't exactly legal. And you have all those guns—”

Sighing, he gazed down adoringly on his child. “It's as I've always told all of you, mankind is not ready for a soul like mine. They may very well try to kill me, in the end. And if they do—well, now, what better place for my only child than with her daddy?”

“You—you mean…?”

“Death is nothing to fear, you know. Haven't I taught you as much? Haven't you learned a thing in your time here?” He shook his head slowly, then turned and carried the baby out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him.

Lizzie hurled herself after him, only to collide with the door. When she went to tear it open, it had been locked from the outside. She pounded on it uselessly, then collapsed against the wood, sobbing.

Jewel got to her feet and went to her friend, sliding her arms around her and pulling her close.

“Oh, God, you were right, Jewel. You were right. He doesn't care if Sunny lives or dies!”

“It's all right. It's going to be all right. We'll get out of here, and we'll take her with us. Everything will be okay.”

“I thought he loved her,” Lizzie sobbed. “I thought he loved

“He only loves his own crazy ideas. He loves the power he has over all of us. He loves being in control and this God complex of his. And he loves money. God, he's got scads of it down there somewhere.”

Lizzie lifted her head. “I know where he keeps it. It's in the escape tunnel.” She stared hard at Jewel. “It's almost as if he knows something horrible is going to happen. It's like he's…preparing for it.”

“Yeah, well, we won't be here when it does. And neither will

As it turned out, she couldn't have been more wrong.

* * *

They awoke to the sound of gunfire, rapid and loud.

Jewel leaped out of bed and ran for the door. “It's coming from inside the house!” The knob wouldn't turn in her hand, though.

Lizzie was at the window, looking out. “From outside, too! There are soldiers!” Her entire body jerked backward when the glass shattered, and she hit the floor.

“Lizzie!” Jewel ran to her, sliding across the floor on her knees when she got close. “Lizzie, my God.” There was blood on the front of her nightgown.

Lizzie sat up, pushing Jewel's hands away from her belly. “It's okay. Just a little cut. The glass.”

Jewel shook her head, terrified her friend had been hit by a bullet. “Are you sure? Let me see.”

“I'm fine, Jewel.” Lizzie pressed her palm to the bloody spot on her nightgown. Jewel tried to shift it aside to see the damage, but Lizzie pushed her away. “We have to get the baby out of here!”

“I know, I know.” Jewel helped her friend to her feet, watching her face, worried.

Lizzie went to the locked door. The gunshots were ringing out faster, louder, than before. Then something even louder than a gunshot shook the entire house, and Jewel thought she smelled smoke. Lizzie gave up twisting the knob, stood back, and kicked the door. It was an old door, and the wood began to split under the pressure of her foot. She kicked again, and then Jewel was beside her with a small metal chair in her hands. Using the chair as a battering ram, she slammed it against the door. The two took turns attacking the door, until it finally gave way under the assault. The smoke smell was stronger now, as they raced down the stairs to the second floor nursery.

But Sunny's crib was empty. “Oh, God. Oh, God, where is she?” Lizzie moaned.

“Mordecai must have her!”

Jewel gripped her friend's arm and tugged her out of the nursery. They ran together down to the ground floor. Fire and smoke were everywhere. The front door was open, but instead
of running out of the house, people were running into it, bullets chasing them down. Some lay on the floor, dead or dying. Others stood at the windows, firing shots at the army of men outside. The front of the house was completely engulfed in flames.

“He couldn't have got out that way!” Jewel cried.

“The basement. He must have taken her to the tunnel.”

As they ran for the basement, Jewel tripped over someone, turned to look, and saw Sirona, cowering in a corner, sobbing. Tessa was nearby, sitting on the floor looking shocky, her face blank, her body rocking.

“Come on, come with us,” Jewel said, bending to grip Tessa's upper arm, jerking her to her feet. Sirona followed wordlessly. Lizzie was several steps ahead of them by then. The fire was spreading—chasing them it seemed. “Hurry!”

They made it to the basement stairs, then down them. It was dark, but Jewel saw Lizzie come to a sudden stop ahead of them and heard her as she shouted, “How could you? How could you try to save yourself and leave the rest of us to die?”

Jewel raced closer, shocked into stillness when she saw Mordecai there, cradling little Sunny in his arms.

“Go back to your room!” he shouted. “You have no idea what's happening here!”

“I know exactly what's happening.” Lizzie's voice was weaker than before. The red stain on the front of her nightgown was larger now, spreading. There was an explosion from somewhere close. It was deafening, and it shook them physically. A loud roar followed, and Jewel felt the heat.

“Give me my daughter,” Lizzie said.

Mordecai lifted one hand, and Jewel stiffened when she saw the gun he held. “Go back or die right here.”

Jewel ran at him. He was so focused on Lizzie that he didn't see her fast enough to fire, and she hit him with every ounce of strength she possessed, knocking him right off his feet and wrestling the baby from his arms as she fell on top of him. The gun skittered across the concrete floor. Jewel tore herself and little Sunny from Mordecai's arms, and then it seemed like the end of the world as the beams and boards above them came crashing down like some fiery avalanche.

She was knocked to her knees, and when she managed to get up again, holding the screaming baby close, choking on the smoke and heat, she saw Lizzie on her knees. Sirona and Tessa hovered two feet away, looking terrified in the dancing light of the flaming beams that littered the floor now. And beneath one of those beams, Mordecai lay, trapped.

Other books

Sins of the Fathers by Ruth Rendell
On the Way Home by Warren, Skye
Most Secret by Nevil Shute
Smart Girls Think Twice by Linz, Cathie
Empire of Avarice by Tony Roberts
People of the Mist by W. Michael Gear
The Dead Detective by William Heffernan
Untamed by Kate Allenton
Wraithsong by E. J. Squires