Drew Cameron slipped and went down on one knee in the heavy, wet spring snow, but he forced himself back up again, propelled by a sense of urgency he had never known before.
Please, God. Not my son…
Drew took another step, then another, pushing against the fierce wind. Sleet cut into his face and pelted onto the snow-covered trees and juts of granite on the steep terrain. The mid-April storm was worse than was forecasted. In the valley, daffodils were starting to pop up out of the ground. It was mud season in Vermont. If anything, he'd worried about causing more erosion on the trails, still wet from the melting winter snows.
He hadn't bothered strapping a pair of snowshoes onto his pack in case conditions warranted --- a mistake, he realized now.
But he refused to turn back.
He had gone off the main trail hours ago, but he knew every inch of Cameron Mountain. By now, the snow would have covered any footprints he'd left. If anything happened to him, he'd be lucky if searchers found his body for his family to bury.
"I don't care." He spoke in a ragged whisper. "Take me."
Take me instead of my son.
How many fathers through the millennia had cried out those same words?
Drew coughed and spat, catching his breath as he came to a lull in the upward sweep of the mountain. The summit was another thousand feet up, but he had no intention of going that far. In all his seventy-seven years, he had never operated on such blind instinct. He couldn't stop himself --- he had to be here, now, at this moment, asking questions, searching for answers.
He wasn't an emotional man, but he couldn't shake the fear that had gripped him since dawn.
He couldn't shake the images.
I'm an old man.
Let me die in my son's place.
As he eased among a dense grove of tall spruce trees, their branches drooping under the weight of the clinging, wet snow, he saw young men huddled, battling an unseen enemy.
He saw their blood oozing into the ground of the faraway land where they fought.
He heard their moans of pain amid the rapid, nonstop gunfire.
The vision wasn't born of books and movies, and it wasn't a nightmare to be chased off with daylight and coffee. It was real. Every second of it. Drew didn't understand how the vision of his son in battle had come to him, but he trusted it --- believed it.
It wasn't a premonition. The attack on Elijah's position wasn't imminent --- it was happening now.
Drew stood up straight, now that he was out of the worst of the wind. The ice had abruptly changed back to snow. Fat flakes fell silently in the white landscape, but he saw, as clearly as if he were there, the bright stars of the moonless Afghan night. Elijah never talked about his secret missions. He had joined the army at nineteen, without discussing his decision with anyone --- not his two brothers, his sister, his friends.
Definitely not his father.
But there were reasons for that.
"Dear God," Drew whispered, "let me make up for what I did to him. Please. Give me that chance."
For fifteen years he had convinced himself he had done the right thing when he had kicked Elijah out of the house and sent Jo Harper back to her family. Even now, Drew accepted that he'd had no other choice.
That didn't mean he didn't have regrets.
A.J., Sean and Rose would forgive him if he died on the mountain he loved, but they'd never forgive him if their brother was killed. That Elijah had chosen to become a soldier and accepted the risks that came with it wouldn't soften his siblings from holding their father responsible for driving him away from the only place he'd ever truly wanted to be.
Drew scooped up snow into his waterproof glove and formed it into a smooth ball. Two weeks ago he had held in his palms a dozen fragrant pink blossoms that had fallen from Washington's famous cherry trees, even as Jo Harper, in her early thirties now, had scrutinized him, obviously wondering if he was half out of his mind.
He hadn't gone into his other reasons for coming to Washington. It seemed crazy now. Crazier even than his reasons for seeking out Jo. More visions emerged, as clear and real as the one of his son in battle --- Elijah, the boy Jo loved, now a man.
He dropped the snowball into a drift.
Maybe he was half out of his mind.
He noticed footprints --- fresh ones --- slowly disappearing in the falling snow. He went very still. He wasn't so disoriented and preoccupied that he'd gone in circles.
No, he thought. They weren't his prints.
Someone was up here with him.
Drew crept past the spruce and, just ahead, saw the little house he had spent most of last fall building. He hadn't bothered with permits --- he figured he'd get slapped with a fine one of these days, but he didn't care. He hadn't meant for the project to get away from him the way it had. After years of searching, he had finally found the cellar hole of the original Cameron house on Cameron Mountain. He had started by clearing out some trees and fixing up the rock foundation, and next thing he knew he was drawing up plans for a simple post-and-beam structure --- more shed than house, really. When he finished it, he meant to present it as a surprise to his family, perhaps their last surprise from him.
The closest trail was up the remote northwest side of the mountain from a seldom-used old logging road. His great-great-grandfather would have taken that route two hundred years ago. Few even knew about it anymore, and it was impossible for most of the winter.
Drew stopped, held his breath.
"We have to think through every detail of every assignment." A man's voice. Arrogant, deliberate. "We can't go off half-cocked. We have to plan."
"You plan." It was a woman this time, impatient. "I'll take action."
"This is business. We're being paid to do a job. It's not some adventure to keep you in adrenaline rushes. Just because you don't need the money ---”
"I want the money. That's enough for me."
"You've never killed anyone," the man said quietly.
A slight pause. "How do you know?"
The door to Drew's little house opened, but he didn't look at who stood on the threshold. Instead he gazed up into the falling snow, letting one flake after another melt on his face. Now he understood his visions. He understood why he was here on Cameron Mountain at this moment.
It was meant to be. He was a father who would get his wish.
His son would live.
Elijah will come home.
Seven months later
A red-tailed hawk swooped down from Cameron Mountain and out over the small lake, gray and quiet in the mid-November gloom, as if to warn Jo Harper she wasn't alone --- but she had already figured that out.
She glanced down the private dirt road she shared with Elijah Cameron.
Yep. He was still coming.
Ignoring the tug of pain in her left side, she reached into the trunk of her car for a cardboard box filled with food and supplies she'd grabbed out of her apartment. She thought of the other places she could have exiled herself. New Zealand, for example. The south of France. Costa Rica. It didn't have to be Vermont. Black Falls. Her picturesque hometown in the heart of the Green Mountains.
It was summer in New Zealand, she thought as she lifted the box on her uninjured hip and noted that it was barely four o'clock and yet almost dark. The long, dark winter nights were upon northern New England. She'd left Washington early in order to arrive in Vermont while it was still daylight.
Using her elbow, she shut the trunk. Three brown-spotted bananas on top of the overflowing box hadn't fared well on the long trip north, but she hadn't wanted to leave them to rot in her microscopic Georgetown apartment. She didn't know when she'd be back at her job with the Secret Service. Technically, she just was taking some time off. But everyone knew she'd been all but ordered to clear out of town for a bit.
Jo knew it, too.
Elijah seemed to be carrying a vase of flowers, but that didn't make sense.
Even from fifty yards away, he looked as sexy, rugged and forbidden as ever. She hadn't realized he was home from the army. Not that her family in Black Falls would have told her, especially this week --- because then she really might have chucked it all and bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand.
Elijah had built a house on the wooded hillside adjoining the thirty acres and its dozen, one-room, falling-down cabins he and his brothers and sister had every reason to expect to inherit one day. Instead, Drew Cameron had left the property to Jo. The shock of his death from hypothermia in an April snowstorm had only been compounded by that one detail in his last will and testament.
None of the Cameron siblings was more taken aback than Jo was herself by their father's inexplicable act of generosity.
She pushed the uncomfortable memory of her last encounter with Drew Cameron out of her mind. She didn't want to go there. Not now, not especially with Elijah ambling toward her.
She watched the hawk glide back toward her and disappear into the woods and hills above the cabins.
There was no wind, but the air was brisk and chilly --- she'd gotten used to Washington's warmer climate. She'd had to pull on her black fleece jacket when she'd crossed the Vermont border. She hadn't expected to be back in Black Falls until Thanksgiving, and then only for a short visit with her family.
But here she was, and who knew for how long.
The brightly colored leaves of October had fallen, just the rusts and maroons of dying oak leaves clinging to branches among the hemlocks, pines and spruces along the dot of a glacial lake. Jo noticed a battered dark green wooden canoe in the grayish frost-killed grass down by the lake. It was on her property, but it wasn't her canoe. No doubt it belonged to a Cameron --- probably the one walking down the road with the flowers.
She carried her box across the weeds and dead pine needles that passed for a yard. Elijah kept coming. She saw no sign of a limp --- her sister, Beth, had e-mailed her in April after news hit town that Elijah, a Special Forces soldier, had been wounded, badly, in Afghanistan.
It was the day after Devin Shay, a Black Falls high-school senior, had found Drew Cameron dead on the mountain named for his ancestors.
Jo stopped at the front door --- the only door --- to the largest of the dilapidated cabins. It was set up on blocks and had moss growing on its roof, which couldn't be good, and its board-and-batten exterior needed a fresh coat of dark brown paint. But it was the closest to the lake and the best of the lot. Most of the cabins probably should have been condemned years ago. A.J., the eldest Cameron, supposedly had drawn up plans for expanding Black Falls Lodge down to the lake, never expecting the land wouldn't one day be his.
Elijah left the dirt road and walked toward her as if he didn't have a care in the world. He wore a canvas jacket, close-fitting jeans and a navy blue Red Sox cap, and Jo noted the dark stubble of beard on his square Cameron jaw.
If possible, she thought, he was even more appealing than he had been at nineteen, when he had whisked her off for three nights and four days in the very cabins she had just inherited.
She had never loved anyone the way she had Elijah Cameron.
But that was a long time ago.
He came up to the doorstep with his vase of flowers. They were all lilies --- Asiatic lilies in varying shades of cream, apricot and copper.
Jo settled the box onto her right hip. She could have stayed with her sister or brother or in her old room growing up, but she'd opted for space, quiet and solitude. She'd always loved the lake. While she was doing damage control on her career, she figured she could also consider her options for what to do with her lakefront property.
He barely contained a smile. "Rough week, Agent Harper?"
It wasn't looking to get better anytime soon, she thought. "Hello, Elijah."
"I didn't see you ---”
"Not a chance. You're a Secret Service agent who protects the lives of important people. You spotted me before you took the key out of your ignition."
She sighed. "You're not going to make this easy, are you?"
His eyes, the same deep blue that had captivated her as a teenager, sparked with humor. "No, ma'am. It's too good."
"No one else is making this easy. No reason you should." She nodded to the enormous vase of lilies he carried in the crook of one arm. "Taking up flower arranging, Elijah?"
"Penny dropped them off earlier. She didn't want to leave them out in the open. They're for you."
Penny Hodges owned the only flower shop in Black Falls and had always had a soft spot for Elijah.
"Who're they from?"
"What makes you think I know?"
"You looked at the card."
"Ah. Well." He sniffed an apricot-colored lily. "So I did. Are you armed?"
"It can be dangerous, having a badass Secret Service agent next door."
Just her luck, Jo thought, that Elijah would be the first person she ran into in Black Falls. Despite the ordeals of the past seven months --- his father's death, his own near death --- he looked fit, as muscular and as physical as ever. But she didn't fool herself. Elijah Cameron wasn't the same small-town Vermont boy who had stolen her heart and soul as a teenager.
And she wasn't the same small-town girl, either.
"If the flowers are a gag gift from one of my colleagues, you can paddle your canoe out to a deep spot and give them the heave-ho."
"They're from your new best friend in Washington."
Charlie Neal, Jo thought. That little bastard had the gall to send her flowers.
She contained her reaction and said tightly, "Take them inside if you would. My hands aren't exactly free."
Elijah tugged open the rickety screen door. "Did you pick this cabin for old times' sake?"
It was the cabin where they'd made love night and day after her high-school graduation. He had graduated the year before and spent the year working at the Blade Falls Lodge --- long before A.J. took it over --- and avoiding arrest by Jo's father, the local police chief.
"This one has the best heat of the lot," Jo said, neutral.
She stepped inside and set her box on the rough wood floor next to her duffel bag, which she'd already hauled from her car. She wasn't that sure what all she'd packed. Frustrated, aggravated, anxious to get out of Washington as fast as she could, she'd tossed together clothes, reading material and leftovers with little thought to what she'd need.
Elijah put the flowers on the small drop-leaf table near the window overlooking the lake. Three of her colleagues who'd stayed in the cabins in October had referred to the decor as early junkyard, but they'd enjoyed the setting --- the woods, the lake, the hills. They'd hiked, fished, gone canoeing, read books in the quiet.
That was before Jo's bad week. She doubted any of her fellow Secret Service agents would be up to Vermont anytime soon, even if she did fix up the cabins.
She avoided looking at the iron four-poster bed in the alcove --- it was the same bed she and Elijah had found so useful fifteen years ago.
"How long are you planning to stay?" he asked.
"Until the dust settles in Washington."
Jo bent down and grabbed the bananas from the top of her box. How long would she be here? As she stood up straight again, she tried not to wince in front of Elijah, a matter of personal pride, but she knew she'd failed.
"Still hurting?" he asked with no detectable amusement or sarcasm.
"Baking soda and water might help."
Now she detected a note of amusement and sarcasm. "Thanks. I'm fine."
She had heard every conceivable homemade remedy in the past seventy-two hours, ever since she'd fallen victim to a prank orchestrated by the sixteen-year-old son of the vice president of the United States. Charles Preston Neal was a notorious handful. He had invited his cousins and friends over to the madhouse that was the vice president's residence for an elaborate simulated firefight with realistic-looking fake weapons. Jo was assigned to Marissa Neal, the eldest of Charlie's four older sisters, who lived nearby and was there for a visit.
Five minutes into their firefight, Charlie had pointed at his cousin, who was about to shoot, and yelled, "I think it's a real gun!"
Jo had reacted instantly, jumping into action to save him and his friends from injury and death in case it was a real gun. But it wasn't. The "weapon" was only another of the authentic-looking toy pistols and rifles in the boys' extensive arsenal. She'd intercepted a barrage of airsoft pellets zipping toward Charlie and took the dozens of tiny, fake rounds meant for him.
Trying to live down the spray of pinprick welts on her left arm, side and hip would have been bad enough, but Charlie had collapsed in hysterical laughter, and that was it. Jo pulled him up by the ear and gave him an uncensored piece of her mind.
That was what one of his cousins or friends --- no one knew who exactly had secretly captured on video and put on the Internet.
Hence, today's drive up to Vermont.
Vice President Neal had mandated the boys all take a police-sanctioned safety course if they were to have any more simulated battles in the backyard, and he'd personally sat them down at the kitchen table and had them write notes of apology to Jo. There was no telling how many of them were in on the prank, but Charlie clearly was the ringleader.
But the damage was done. The video was out there forever, with Secret Service Special Agent Jo Harper grabbing the vice president's son by the ear and giving him a piece of her mind.
Not one of the finer moments in her career.
"Dyeing your hair these days, Jo?"
She frowned at Elijah. "What?"
"I like the copper," he said, then nodded to the flowers. "That must explain Charlie's choice of colors for your lilies. They go with your hair."
"He has an IQ of a hundred and eighty. He knows how to manipulate people."
"Maybe he has a crush on you."
"I doubt that."
Elijah pushed open the screen door and glanced back at her. "You really can't tell a toy gun from a real one?"
"Go ahead, Elijah, have your fun. Yes, I can tell. That's not why I got hit." She set the bananas on the two-foot cracked Formica counter in the bare-bones kitchen area. They'd be mush by morning. "It doesn't matter. Charlie and the rest of those kids are all safe."
"You did your job," Elijah said.
"That's the way I look at it."
She returned to the box and saw that she'd made a mistake in packing the three cartons of yogurt she'd had in her fridge. They were squished now, and ten hours in her trunk couldn't have been good for their contents.
"I heard you were wounded," she said, raising her gaze to him. "You're okay now?"
His response was classic Elijah. Jo had never met anyone more resilient. Most of his years as a Special Forces soldier were clouded in mystery and the subject of much speculation in Black Falls. Even with her high-level security clearances, Jo doubted she could find out the specifics of the April firefight. She'd heard that a bullet had nicked his femoral artery, a highly dangerous injury. He could have easily bled to death.
According to her sister, he was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany, and only when he was out of danger had his family informed him of his father's death. Beth had heard the story straight from Rose Cameron, Elijah's younger sister, who had flown to Germany to be with her brother.
"But he already knew," Beth had said. "No one had to tell him."
Jo suspected that one look at Rose's face probably had been enough for Elijah to figure out the bad news for himself.
"I'm sorry about your father." She ran a finger along the delicate edge of a dark maroon lily. "I had no idea he planned to leave me this place. I never asked him for anything, Elijah. Ever. He didn't owe me."
His expression was unreadable. "That doesn't seem to be how he saw it, does it?"
She resisted comment. To get into a discussion about Drew Cameron now, after her long day and lousy week, in the very cabin in which he had discovered her and Elijah as teenagers and changed the course of their lives, made no sense.
"Thanks for delivering the flowers," she said.
"Anytime. And relax. Give yourself time to heal." He grinned and gave her a wink. "I hear those airsoft pellets sting like hell."
"You haven't seen the video, have you?"
"No, and I don't intend to." A colleague had brought his personal laptop to her desk to show the two-minute video to her, but his battery had run out. Her one stroke of luck all week, as far as she was concerned. "You have?"
"A.J. and I had a couple of beers the other night and watched it start to finish at least three times."
"You did not."
"Okay. Six times."
The screen door creaked shut as he headed out, laughing.
After he left, Jo checked the card tucked among the lilies.
Thank you for your willingness to save my life. Someday I'll make amends. Charles P. Neal.
She sighed and told herself she was glad there hadn't been a real gun. No one had been seriously hurt that day. The rest didn't matter.
On her drive north, Jo had tried to be optimistic and thought of the various ways that being in Black Falls would do her good. She could go for runs in the fresh, crisp northern New England air. She could watch the last of the leaves fall off the trees. Wait for the first real snow. Watch the birds migrate for warmer climates.
She got busy unpacking before she could change her mind and load up her car again and head to Montreal or Buffalo --- anywhere, she thought, that would put her more than a couple hundred yards from Elijah Cameron.
Elijah grabbed a neatly split, perfectly dried log from the two cords of wood he'd had delivered at the top of his driveway. He felt no pain or even residual stiffness in his right thigh where he'd been shot. He had tied on a tourniquet himself that long, bad night to stem the bleeding and keep on fighting.
He hadn't expected to live. The Special Forces medic who'd treated him, and later his doctors, had said it was a miracle he hadn't bled to death.
He didn't believe in miracles.
A sudden cold wind blew up from the lake. Even if it took until midnight, he wanted to get the wood stacked tonight.
His help, in the form of two teenagers, apparently had deserted him.
It was dark now, the pines and naked birches and maples on his hillside black silhouettes against the star-sprinkled night sky.
Jo had gone back inside with her glass of wine or whatever it was she'd stood on her rock drinking.
Through the trees, he saw a light came on in her rat heap of a cabin.
Having the Secret Service next door was a complication he didn't need when he was on the hunt for answers, but Elijah figured he didn't have much choice in the matter --- and at least Jo was easier to look at than the three agents who'd stayed in the cabins a few weeks ago when he'd just arrived back home.
It wasn't until last week, on a solitary hike up Cameron Mountain, that he'd flat out decided he didn't have the full story behind his father's death in April.
Just as he was starting to push for answers, Jo had to get herself into trouble in Washington and turn up on the lake.
Elijah grabbed more logs. He switched on the lights in the lower level of his home, but even so, it was a dark night. He pictured Jo at ten, freckle-faced and full of mischief, scrambling up a tall oak on the lakeshore to cut the rope to his tire swing. He'd sailed out over the water. By the time he swam back to shore, she'd lit out. He never did catch up with her.
He pictured her skinny-dipping in an isolated cove on a chilly fall night at fifteen. He remembered her mortification when he'd stumbled onto her. Then her anger as she'd pelted him with a rock.
Those turquoise eyes of hers.
And he pictured her at eighteen, whispering to him in the moonlight. "I love you, Elijah. I'll love you forever."
She'd long since come to her senses.
He'd been a sucker for Jo Harper for as long as he could remember.
He took his load of logs to the lean-to he'd built on the front lower level of his house, under the deck, and lined them up side by side. When he'd bought his five hillside acres three years ago, he hadn't even considered that it didn't have any lake frontage. He'd expected the adjoining acreage to stay in the family. He'd worked on his place whenever he could get back to Black Falls, clearing the land, building his post-and-beam house. It was nothing fancy, but he was satisfied with the results.
As he returned to his woodpile, he heard a rustling in the fallen leaves up on the steep, rocky trail from Black Falls Lodge. In another two seconds, Devin Shay burst from the shadows and trees, panting and out of breath. "Hey, Elijah."
So, his help hadn't deserted him entirely after all. "You're late," Elijah said. "Grab a log. Where's your girlfriend?"
"Right behind me. She's not --- we're not…" Devin shuffled over to the heap of cordwood. "Nora and I are just friends."
"It's dark. Does she have a flashlight?" Devin didn't, but Nora Asher hadn't grown up in Black Falls and couldn't know every rock and root on the lodge trail.
"There's nothing in the dark that's not there in the light." Devin grabbed a log in each hand. He was lanky and surly --- and trouble. "Isn't that what you always say, Elijah?"
The kid wasn't being funny, Elijah decided. He was being a jerk.
Seven months ago, Devin had found the frozen body of Elijah's father on the north side of Cameron Mountain. It was three days after he'd disappeared. Rose had been up on the mountain with her search dog. A.J. and his wife, Lauren, were out there. Sean had flown in from southern California.
The Vermont State Police search-and-rescue team had launched an official search. But it was a high-school senior who'd located Drew Cameron. The autopsy indicated he'd died of hypothermia.
He had, literally, collapsed in the snow and gone to sleep.
Devin seemed chastened when Elijah didn't respond. "Nora's right behind me," he said.
"I'm here, I'm here," she called cheerfully, bounding out from the trail. "Don't be mad, Elijah. I told Devin not to wait for me. Sorry I'm late."
Elijah eyed the two of them, both eighteen, both insecure and unreliable. But any similarities ended there. Nora was short and a little overweight, attractive with her dark, curly hair and big smile. She'd had her pick of colleges after graduating from her expensive Washington D.C. prep school in May, but she'd dropped out of Dartmouth College over in New Hampshire six weeks ago and moved to Black Falls to get a job and experience "real life" for a year. That she was living rent free in a guesthouse on an expensive Vermont country estate owned by family friends didn't seem to interfere with her concept of "real life."
Nora set to work on the wood. "Come on, Devin," she said. "Let's get this done."
Devin hung back, watching her as if he couldn't imagine what was so great about stacking wood. He had been in the back of a cruiser a few times, particularly since graduating --- barely --- in June. Elijah had gotten into plenty of scrapes at that age. Jo's father, the local police chief, hadn't cut him any slack, and not just because of Jo, or because Elijah was a Cameron, or because he deserved it. "I'm trying to save you from yourself, son," Chief Harper would say as he'd slapped on the handcuffs.
Wes Harper was retired now. The new chief didn't have the same connections to the town he served. If Devin stepped too far out of line, he'd be up on charges. His weakness seemed to be standing up to bullies, which Elijah could appreciate --- but he was also convinced that Devin hadn't told everything he knew about what had happened up on the mountain that spring.
"Devin," Nora said, impatient. "Come on."
Finally, he sighed, glowered at Elijah and got to work.
Devin stacked the logs quickly and ably, automatically crisscrossing them to keep them from toppling over, but Nora had to think, pause, figure out just how to arrange the logs in her arms, how many she could manage at a time, how to unload them without dropping one on her foot. She was enthusiastic, Elijah saw, but inexperienced. She'd been like that in an all-day winter hiking class A.J. had talked him into teaching at the lodge a week ago --- eager, naive and yet also a little snotty.
Elijah lost patience after fifteen minutes. "Go on. I'll finish."
They didn't argue with him. He fetched a flashlight off his deck steps and handed it to Devin for the hike back to the lodge. "I can drive you up there if you want."
"We prefer to walk," Nora said before Devin could answer. She brushed bits of bark and sawdust off the sleeves of her expensive jacket. "I love the Vermont night sky. The stars are so bright."
Devin shrugged. "I never noticed." He nodded toward Jo's cabin through the bare trees. "Is some new Secret Service agent here?"
Elijah kept his expression neutral. "Jo Harper."
Nora looked startled, and Devin grinned, his first show of humor since arriving. "Did she get fired?"
"The Secret Service equivalent of being sent to her room."
"Beth says Jo's such a good shot now, she can take the eyes out of a crow."
"Good to know."
"What about you, Elijah? Are you that good a shot?"
He didn't answer. Devin was being a jerk again.
"A lot of people in town think you're still special ops."
"People can think what they want to think."
Nora seemed to go a little pale. "I hate war," she said. "Sorry. I just do."
Elijah picked up several good-sized piece of dried bark that had come off some of the logs and would work well as kindling. "Understood."
She blushed. "I didn't mean --- I just…" She dropped whatever she meant to say and turned to Devin. "I'm ready if you are."
Elijah paid them in cash, and as they returned to the hillside trail, Devin flipped on the flashlight, directing the beam of light at the ground. "See you, Elijah. We'll get here on time if you ever have anymore work for us."
After they left, Elijah walked down to the lake in the dark, the ground familiar to him, the clean, cold air welcome after breathing in wood particles. He heard an owl in the woods off to his left, and to his right, he saw a bat against the starlit sky, beelining for Jo's cabin. He couldn't resist a smile. Whether the bat went into the cabin or not, he couldn't tell.
So many nights in faraway places, he had imagined himself as he was now, on the edge of the lake on a biting fall night. Sometimes Jo would be there with him. Not always, but when she was, he would see her clearly --- the sharp angles of her face, the spray of freckles on her cheeks and nose, the spark of her eyes. He would hear her laugh and be soothed by her smile. He hadn't considered it a vision or a fantasy. Just Jo being with him out here on the lake.
He'd often wondered if she ever thought about him and had hoped she didn't.
He turned away from the lake. Jo's cabin was dark now.
His father had only bought the lakefront property a few years ago, after finally wearing down old Pete Harper, the original owner, an eccentric ninety-year-old cousin of Jo's grandfather, who had since died.
Elijah returned to his woodpile. He'd gone out to his father's grave in his first days back home. Still recuperating in Germany, he'd missed the funeral. As he'd stared at the simple stone marker, he'd understood, at least in his own mind, that whatever had occurred on Cameron Mountain last April still required a reckoning. Answers. Justice, even.
He knew himself, he wouldn't stop until he had a clear picture of everything that had happened in Black Falls that spring.
His father would expect no less of him.
But Jo Harper was back in town, and as Elijah reached for another log, he debated which was the bigger problem --- that she was as pretty as ever, or that she was a federal agent with a gun and the power of arrest.
Not that it mattered. Either way, Jo had never been one to break rules.
Except, of course, with him.
Excerpted from COLD PURSUIT © Copyright 2010 by Carla Neggers. Reprinted with permission by Mira. All rights reserved.