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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Watcher in the Woods

A Rockton Novel

Casey Duncan Novels (Volume 4)

Kelley Armstrong

Minotaur Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

ONE


I have not seen my sister, April, in two years. Nine months ago, I called her before I fled to a hidden town in the Yukon, where people like me go to disappear. I didn’t tell her where I was going. I only said that I had to leave, and she might not hear from me for a few years. Maybe I was imagining it, but I thought I heard relief in her voice.

After our parents died, I would call before April’s birthday, before Thanksgiving, before Christmas, and I’d suggest getting together. For the first year, she made excuses. Then she stopped bothering, and I stopped calling. I worked through every holiday and pretended it didn’t matter. Of course it mattered.

Late last night, I called from a pay phone in Dawson City and told April that I needed her help, that a man’s life depended on it. She hung up on me.

Now I’m outside the Vancouver hospital where she works. She’s a neuroscientist, but also has her medical degree and consults on neurosurgery. According to her assistant, she’s been here all night on an emergency call and should be leaving at any moment.

I’m standing by the parking garage. I’ve confirmed there’s a car in her spot. Now it’s just a matter of waiting.

“Looks like good weather today,” says a voice beside me.

I slant my gaze to a guy about four feet away. He’s six feet tall, with dark blond hair in a buzz cut. He’s got a few days’ worth of beard scruff, and he’s wearing a ball cap, a T-shirt, and shades. He leans against the building, a paperback novel in his hand.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to speak to strangers?” I say.

“Nah. She told strangers not to speak to me. And I won’t be a stranger after you come back to my hotel room tonight.”

I laugh. “Does that line ever work?”

“Never tried it.” He lifts the shades. “I can offer further incentives, if you’d like.”

“Like a room-service dinner?”

“Sure … eventually.”

I slide over and lean my head against his shoulder before putting space between us again. Eric Dalton, the sheriff in Rockton, that hidden town where I’ve been living. Also the guy I’ve been living with. April doesn’t know Dalton, so we’re keeping our distance until I introduce him. Dalton can be a tad intimidating when he wants to be. And given the runaround I’m getting from April, he really wants to be.

“You could just wait at her place,” he says.

“That would require knowing her address,” I say. “She moved here a few years ago, and I only realized it when my birthday gift for her bounced back. I called, and she said she’d gotten a job here. She didn’t provide an updated address.”

“Bitch.”

I shrug. “Maybe I did something to piss her off.”

“Yeah. It was definitely you, Casey. You’re such a pain in the ass.” He lifts his glasses again, so I don’t miss his eye roll. “Your sister is a bitch, and if this wasn’t Kenny’s best chance, I’d say fuck it. If she doesn’t want to know you, that’s her loss.”

I smile. “Thank you.”

He starts to answer and then quickly lifts his book and murmurs, “I’m gonna guess that’s her coming out now.”

I look up. Dalton has never seen a photo of April, and if asked, I would have said there isn’t much of a resemblance between us. Our mother was Filipino and Chinese, our father Scottish. April can pass for white, where I cannot, and to me that has always meant that we look very different. She’s a few inches taller than my five-two. Her skin is lighter. Her eyes are blue, their shape more Caucasian.

But we have the same straight dark hair, the same heart-shaped face, the same cheekbones and nose, all inherited from our mother. When I see April through Dalton’s eyes, the similarities outweigh the differences. It’s just that the differences have always loomed larger in my mind, wedged in by every acquaintance who met my sister and commented on the fact that she “looked white.”

It always seemed like one more way we were different. One more way that she was “better,” and I feel a flare of outrage thinking that now. I am proud of my heritage. I wouldn’t want to be able to “pass” for anything but what I am. Yet I cannot deny that when I was young, looking like April seemed better. Easier.

April spots me and slows. Her lips compress, and I am flung back to my childhood, seeing that same look from her every time I careened or bounced into a room. A moue of distaste for the wayward little sister who was always causing trouble, always disrupting April’s orderly life. I’m only five years younger, but that gap always felt huge. Insurmountable.

“No,” she says as she walks straight past me.

“I just want to talk.”

“Did I say no last night?” April doesn’t even glance over her shoulder. “Go back to…” She flutters a hand over her shoulder. “Wherever you went.”

Dalton surges forward, but I stop him as I follow her into the garage. “I need your help, April.”

“If you’ve frittered away your inheritance, I’m not lending you money.”

If anyone else said this, I’d snap back a response. We both inherited seven figures from our parents, and mine has done nothing but grow since their death. Anyone who knows me—at all—wouldn’t be surprised by this. Yet the person who should know me best is the one thinking I’d blow through a million bucks and come to her for a handout.

But I don’t snap. I don’t even feel the urge. With April, I am forever that little girl scrabbling up a mountain to get her attention. Forever trying to win her approval.

“I haven’t touched my inheritance,” I say evenly. “As I tried to explain on the phone, I need your medical assistance. For a friend who’s been shot in the back.”

She slowly pivots to stare at me. “What kind of trouble are you in, Casey?”

“None. Someone else—”

“A friend of yours has been shot, and you’re coming to me instead of taking him to a hospital? Did you shoot him?”

I flinch. I can’t help it. Thirteen years ago, I shot and killed a man. But April knows nothing of that, and it isn’t connected to the current situation.

Before I can answer, she turns away again. “Get this man to a hospital. Drop him off at the door if you need to. Then go away, Casey. Just…” Another hand flutter over her shoulder. “Go away again. Please.”

Dalton strides past and plants himself in her path. “Your sister is talking to you. Turn the hell around and listen to her.”

Her gaze flicks over him. Then she looks back at me. “Tell your fuck toy to move, Casey.”

“Hey!” I say, my voice high, part outrage and part shock. My sister is never vulgar. Even the mention of sex usually has her flushing bright red.

She looks up at Dalton. “Yes, that’s what you are. If you haven’t realized it yet, take a tip from me. My sister doesn’t date men. She just screws them.”

“Huh,” Dalton says. “Well, then I don’t know who I’ve been living with for the past six months, but I guess it’s not your sister. Or maybe I’m just special.” He looks over at me. “Tell me I’m special.”

I mouth an apology, but he dismisses it with a head shake. My sister isn’t far off, as he knows. Until Dalton, I hadn’t had a “boyfriend” since I was eighteen, and the reason for that had nothing to do with personal preference and everything to do with the fact that the guy I shot and killed was my last boyfriend.

April tries to walk around Dalton. He blocks her. He has his hands in his pockets, a clear signal that he will not physically stop her, but he’s not about to let her pass him easily either.

“This isn’t about me,” he says. “It’s about your sister. Who needs your help, and believe me, she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t.”

April opens her mouth. Then a woman in a nurse’s uniform enters the garage, and April straightens so fast I swear her spine crackles.

“Yes, I understand,” she says, in her most businesslike voice. “Let’s discuss this outside.”

She leads us through a side door to a grassy area. It’s empty, but she surveys it twice to be sure.

“If you wish to speak to me, I can spare…” She checks her watch. “Ten minutes. Then I have a salon appointment.”

Dalton snorts a laugh before catching her expression. “Fuck, you’re serious.” He shakes his head. “Are you sure you two are related?”

“Yes, we are,” April says coldly. “We simply don’t share the same sense of responsibility.”

“Yeah,” Dalton says. “You could learn a few things from Casey.”

She looks at me. “Please tell your guard dog he’s using up your ten minutes.”

I explain Kenny’s situation, as fast as I can. I’m a homicide detective, but I grew up in a family of doctors and had been expected to take a career in medicine, so I know enough to give April a decent assessment of the damage and the treatment so far.

“You have doctors treating him,” she says.

“No, we have me, plus an army veteran who received some medic training, and a psychiatrist with an M.D. but no on-job experience.”

“This man needs a doctor. A hospital.”

“The situation…” I glance at Dalton.

He nods, telling me to continue.

“The situation is not criminal,” I say. “Let me clear that up right now. I’ve been working in a remote community. Very remote. We’re more than willing to take the patient to a hospital, but he refuses to leave. He fears that if he goes, he won’t be allowed back. The community is … a safe haven.”

“Witness protection?”

“Something like that. It’s complicated. That’s all I can say, April. I am not asking you to do anything illegal. I wouldn’t.”

She’s eased back, her guard still up but flexing. “I can’t go on site, Casey. I can recommend someone, but you really should get him to a hospital.”

“We know that. And we aren’t asking you to go on site. Just consult. The two guys working with him are excellent medics. Steady hands. Steady minds.” I force a tiny smile. “Which was always what Mom and Dad said made a good surgeon.”

She flinches, and I realize maybe I shouldn’t bring up our parents. She was always much closer to them than I was.

“We just need a consult,” I say. “Lead them through the process of removing the bullet.”

“Fine. We’ll go to my place and video-link them in.”

“It’s not a video link.” I reach into my bag and hand her a satellite phone.

She stares at it. Then she looks at me. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Our town is very remote.” I pull pages from my bag. “But we have the medical equipment.” I flip through the stack. “Here are photos and X-rays…”

She flips through them and then slows for a second pass before slapping the pages back into my hand.

“This can’t be done by a satellite phone, Casey.”

“It’s that bad?”

“No, it’s…” She throws up her hands. “It’s actually not that bad. The problem is the location of the bullet. It’s a tricky extraction, and I don’t care how steady your psychiatrist’s hands might be, you need someone on site who knows what she’s doing.” She consults her cell phone. “I can give you three days. Possibly four.”

“What?”

“It’s Thursday. I was planning to work in the lab today and tomorrow, but that’s not necessary. I need to be back for Tuesday, when I’m consulting on a surgery. You can have me until then.”


Copyright © 2019 by KLA Fricke Inc.