"Outstanding...this was not only one of my
favorite thrillers this vacation, but the most value for money."
--Carole Barrowman, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"McKenzie tells a tight and suspenseful story that fans of James Patterson will find enjoyable...a terrific sympathetic lead and a baffling scenario." --Library Journal
What if everything you believed about the worst event in your life was a lie?
Ian Quinn’s day begins with an anonymous death threat, but that’s not entirely unusual in his line of work as a court-ordered child protection officer. The frustrated parents of his clients often need someone to lash out at — and Ian makes sure that he is the easiest target.
But the threat is nothing compared to the envelope stuffed into his hand by a foul-smelling vagrant who mutters the cryptic message, “He says he’s sorry” before scurrying away.
The envelope with his name scrawled across the front contains a lone visitor’s pass to the Oregon State Penitentiary, and the accompanying message fills Ian’s heart with both terror and revulsion.
The author of the note destroyed Ian’s life. In the blink of an eye, this drunk-driving scum took the most precious thing in Ian’s life.
Worst of all, Ian had watched it happen.
And now the bastard wants to see him.
The message is short. Only seven words.
I was paid to kill your daughter.
Read on for an excerpt from THE FEAR IN HER EYES
The death threat wasn’t the worst part of Ian Quinn’s day.
Sitting on a wooden bench anchored to a slab of cement on the
fringe of a public playground, Ian was grateful for the few faint rays that pierced a rolling blanket of swollen gray overhead. The cracks in the clouds appeared to be widening, offering promise of a brighter afternoon.
Not that it mattered to the children. For the most part, they
were all giggles and smiles as they scampered over playground apparatus that Ian barely recognized from his own childhood. Today’s high-tech equipment made him wonder if he had grown up in a third world country—all sharp angles, lead-based paint, hard metals, and wood.
Now jungle gyms were made from composite plastic and high-tension nylon rope that resembled giant, organic spiderwebs; slides twisted into full spirals; and instead of climbing an old iron ladder to reach the top, slippery surfaces sprouted from the turrets of fairy tale castles or the portholes of abstract pirate ships. Even the swings had changed in just the last few years. Finger-pinching chain had been shrink-wrapped in protective plastic or replaced
with some form of industrial bungee cord to make them bounce—as if swinging by itself wasn’t exciting enough.
Emily, always a daredevil, would have loved it.
“Push me, daddy. Higher, higher.” Her giggle had wings.
The only child who wasn’t smiling was Ian’s client. Thomas
“Tommy” Douglas was a serious five-year-old with sorrowful, chestnut-brown eyes and a mop of hair so thick and curly he could make a Portuguese water dog jealous.
Tommy played in the dirt. Only it wasn’t dirt. The entire
surface of the playground had been covered in rubber crumbs made from recycled tires to better absorb the inevitable stumbles of clumsy and rambunctious children.
The crumbs fascinated Tommy. He would search through them and lift individual scraps up to the light, turning each black gnarl until it formed a shape that pleased him. When one caught him by surprise—whether it formed the sinewy shape of a winged dragon or a three-legged circus elephant—he would show it to his father and await an appropriate response.
His father was patient, sitting beside his son in the rubber
dirt with no thought to the creases or oily stains that might seep into the trousers of his buy-one-get-one suit. His thin, tooth-worn lips never failed to widen in genuine delight when his son held up his newest find.
“Tractor,” said Tommy, holding a misshapen rubber crumb aloft.
“John Deere by the look of it,” said his father. “Who’s driving?”
Tommy crunched up his face in concentration before answering. “A parrot. But it only has one wing.”
“Makes sense,” said his father. “Can’t fly if it only has one wing. Luckily it found a tractor to drive instead.”
The boy nodded in agreement with his father’s logic and returned to picking through the dirt in search of more treasure.
Ian kept his distance, noticing that the boy only occasionally glanced over to make sure he was still there, still watching.
The boy’s mother had really done a number on him. Her hatred for the father had leeched into the boy’s psyche, making him paranoid about being left alone. The father had to fight in court to be allowed visitation rights, and the mother had only relented if the Portland-based organization that Ian worked for, Children First, supervised the visits.
Ian felt sorry for the father. In all his time spent with the man, he had shown nothing but love and concern for his son. But even this morning, before picking the boy up at his mother’s home to bring him to the park for a weekly two-hour lunchtime visit, the mother’s lawyer had called to say she had information the father had booked a flight to visit relatives in Brazil, and she was concerned he might try to take the boy with him.
Ian hadn’t tried to tell the lawyer that he felt her fears were
unfounded, that despite her client’s bitterness over the carnal betrayal of their marriage, her lousy husband was actually a good father. Ian knew his opinions didn’t matter and weren’t appreciated. His job was to be ever watchful and keep his client—the child—safe.
When Ian’s cell phone rang, he pulled it out of his pocket
without taking his eyes off Tommy. The corner of the boy’s mouth had twitched in the first subtle appearance of a smile when his father asked him if the blackened crumb in his hand was a rabbit in a clown suit or a shark wearing a top hat.
Lifting the phone to his ear, Ian assumed the caller was his
boss, Linda McCabe. In the last year, few others ever called. Ian said, “The sun is threatening to break through. Could become a nice day.”
“You’re dead fuckin’ meat!” snarled a male voice.
“Excuse me?” Ian pulled the phone away from his ear and glanced at the caller ID. Unknown. “I think you have the wrong number.”
“Don’t be stupid, Quinn. You’re goin’ down. You’re fuckin’ dead, you hear?”
“Who is this?”
The man’s laugh was more snort than chuckle; his voice rough and throaty, as if he had been gargling nails. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
The line went dead.
Ian squeezed the phone, taking a moment to compose himself and shake off the electric jitter of shock. His hand trembled slightly as he relaxed his grip and slipped the phone back into his pocket. In his line of work, he understood that stress, frustration, and anger could make people believe he was the enemy rather than their own abusive track records.
So long as that rage wasn’t aimed at his clients, the children, he could handle it.
He knew he should report the threat to the police, just to be safe, but when he glanced over at the playground, Tommy was gone.
Ian shot to his feet, the blood draining from his face.
No, no, no! He couldn’t let this happen. He had only taken his eyes off the boy for a second. He glanced toward the nearby parking lot, trying to remember what type of car the father drove. A Lexus, maybe, or was it a Honda? Silver or gray?
He saw an older model Lexus in the front row, separated from the playground by a waist-high chain-link fence. The car’s metallic finish was dulled by city grime and dirty rain. It looked familiar, but he couldn’t be sure.
Ian spun back to the playground and stepped onto the soft crumbs of rubber just as a mop of curly black hair slid into view. Tommy popped out of a translucent plastic tube in the side of a pirate ship at the same time his father walked around the slide and applauded. Tommy wrinkled his nose as though he wasn’t sure if he enjoyed it or not, but then he held out his hands, indicating he wanted to try it again. The father looked over at Ian and beamed with delight.
Ian nodded encouragement and retraced his steps to the bench. His knees buckled with relief when he finally sat down. His heart was hammering inside his chest, and his racing pulse made the large vein in the side of his neck twang like a stand-up bass.
Wiping a hand across his damp forehead, Ian concentrated on his breathing. Slowly, he brought his heartbeat back under control. The ache in his lungs subsided, and the panic that fluttered in his stomach was quelled to a manageable level.
All the time, he kept his eyes on Tommy, never straying, barely
The thought of losing a child was enough to crack his fragile heart into a thousand jagged pieces.
He wouldn’t let it happen.
Not ever again.