Last Resort [Secure]
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by Hannah Alexander
Description: IT WAS A STORY TO PUT HIDEAWAY, MISSOURI, IN THE NATIONAL HEADLINES ... A MISSING CHILD: Carissa Cooper, twelve, vanishes near her home--abducted, possibly by someone close to her. A WOMAN IN CRISIS : Noelle Cooper races back to her hometown to help in the search for her cousin and steps into a web of secrets that has haunted her family for generations. A MAN OF FAITH : Nathan Trask will do anything to protect Noelle from danger. Noelle's childhood friend, he might be much more ... if she dares turn to him.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Steeple Hill,
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [423 KB]
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Not again. I can't let it all start over again. I've got to stop this madness, even if it costs me everything. I can't live if I take another life…and now Carissa.
She's the light that fills Cedar Hollow. She brings sunshine from the gloom that seems to haunt Cooper land. I'll take my own life before I lay a hand on—
But she knows too much about me. She's been searching for secrets that have to stay hidden, telling everybody she's gathering information for her school report. What if she's lying? Maybe the report is a cover-up….
Now that I think about it, she's been looking at me differently.
The kid is too smart for a twelve-year-old. She has other ways of knowing about me. I can't trust her. I trusted before and look what happened. I can't ever let my guard down or I'll lose everything.
I can't let Carissa tell what she knows.
* * *
Carissa Cooper stepped carefully along the muddy lane that led from the sawmill to the house, hugging the old business ledger that Dad had asked her to fetch. Aiming her flashlight at the tire tracks in front of her, she glanced into the darkness. Fear crept up and down her spine like spiders on patrol.
She wasn't usually scared of the dark anymore, but something about the movement of shadows bugged her. They shifted, changing shapes, skittering along the forested roadside with the movement of her flashlight, like the monsters that had waited for her in her closet and under the bed when she was six. She'd been scared of everything then, right after Mom left.
Now she knew better. Still, tonight she couldn't help imagining that eyes were watching her from those waiting clumps of brush and weeds.
If only her big brother Justin had come with her. If only he weren't still so mad at her.
"Should've kept my mouth shut," she muttered under her breath.
The sound of a quiet thud reached her from somewhere deep in the forest to her right. Horse's hooves? She stopped and listened, but all she heard was the whisper of leaves brushing against each other in a puff of wind. The branches made shadows leap across the trunk of the old walnut tree in the glow of her flashlight…like bony arms reaching out for her….
The breeze died and the movement stopped.
Carissa swallowed hard, sweeping the light around her. She had less than an eighth of a mile to go, and here she was acting like a 'fraidy cat. She brought the small circle of light back to the muddy track as she stepped forward again.
What was all the fuss about with Justin anyway? So he was weird. Nothing new. He wasn't the only weird person in their family; he was just acting a little weirder lately. His habits were always making them late to church, late to school. It was embarrassing. This morning she'd counted the number of times he'd checked the front door to make sure it was locked before they left for school. Seven. Same as yesterday. Monday it had been fourteen. Probably to make up for missing his counting process Sunday morning, since they hadn't gone to church.
And she was getting sick of him turning out all the lights in the house at night before everyone went to bed. Last night she was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when he turned out the light on her, and when Carissa shouted at him, Dad got onto her. It wasn't fair.
She shifted the business ledger under her arm. If she dropped it in this mud, Dad would freak. He didn't like his stuff dirty. He and her cousin Jill were probably already wondering what was taking her so long, even though the whole family knew she was doing research on the history of the Cooper sawmill and the deaths ten years ago that nobody would talk about. She could get a good grade on this report if she could dig up enough information, but did they care? No. What she wanted never mattered.
This morning had been the worst thing yet, when Mom had called and Dad wouldn't let her talk to Carissa or Justin. Then Dad had freaked when Carissa picked up the extension. How could he pretend Mom never existed? Sure, Mom had been a jerk, but she was their mother. How could kids be kept from seeing their own mother?
That sound again—that thump of something heavy hitting wet earth in a slow rhythm. Horsewalk.
"Gypsy, is that you?" Her mare wasn't supposed to be in the front pasture, but sometimes she jumped the fence.
Carissa shuffled the ledger beneath her arm to keep it from sliding out of her sweaty hand. It continued to slide. She grabbed for it and dropped the flashlight straight into a gooey puddle. The splatter of mud startled her. The darkness seemed to attack her with glee.
"Stop it, stupid," she muttered to herself, reaching into the puddle.
She came up with a handful of mud, and heard the splash of water mingled with a rustle of brush somewhere behind her. Heart banging in her chest, Carissa tried again, feeling through the slick goo for the flashlight. She searched with both hands, forgetting the book until it slipped from under her arm and fell, splashing her with more mud.
Oh no! Dad would freak. He'd warned her not to—
More rustling, closer.
Carissa froze, still stooped over, grasping the mud-slicked book. Had she really heard something? Was her mind playing tricks on her? She waited, holding her breath, listening.
Copyright © 2007 by Hannah Alexander.