Ten-year-old Rex Falcon stared in horror at the yellow crime-scene tape wrapped around the Lyle house. It was dark now, the night sounds adding to the eeriness. When he’d gotten here, he’d peeked inside the window and seen the gory murders. Then the sheriff and his deputies had pushed him and his brothers and mother into the yard with the other neighbors and refused to let them talk to Rex’s father.
Just because his daddy had found the bodies, they were treating him as if he’d killed the people inside.
His mother hugged the boys close to her. “You boys go on home. You shouldn’t be seeing all this.”
“I’m not going anywhere till they let Daddy go,” Rex said, hands fisted.
“Me neither,” his middle brother Deke said.
His youngest brother Brack jutted up his chin, his eyes wide. “I’m staying, too.”
An image of the dead people flashed into Rex’s head. There was so much blood. It looked like a river on the kitchen floor. The mother lay in it. The boy cuddled beside her. The father, too. It covered his hands and face, and his head….
“Little girl’s dead, too,” a neighbor murmured behind him. “Found her blood near the river.”
“Randolph Falcon.” Sheriff Cohen jerked Rex’s daddy to a standing position and handcuffed him.
“You’reunder arrest for the murders of the Lyle family.”
“No!” His mother collapsed into a neighbor’s arms, sobbing.
His father’s hawklike eyes pierced Rex as the sheriff yanked him down the steps toward his squad car. “Take care of your mama and brothers for me, son.”
Rex shook his head in denial. His father’s words had sounded so odd, as if he wasn’t coming back. But they couldn’t take his father away and lock him up.
He was innocent.
“Daddy!” His brothers chased after the sheriff, and Rex ran after them.
A bald eagle that had been perched on top of the porch swooped down and soared toward the car, its talons bared. Rex’s father nodded toward the bird. The animal knew what it was like to be caged. He was a bird of prey. He needed freedom.
Just like the Falcon men.
The blue light flicked on, the siren screeched and a cloud of dust rose behind the police car. Rex gathered his brothers and mother and walked them home, but it was dark inside and cold and so quiet the house echoed like a tomb. It was as if his father had just died.
Fear and anger and sadness knotted Rex’s throat. He wanted to do something to get his daddy out of jail. He wanted to make his mother stop crying. And his broth-ers … they were heartbroken.
But he felt so helpless. He was only ten. A stupid tenyear-old boy. What could he do? He didn’t know anything about lawyers or courts or anything else.
Tears pushed against his eyelids, but he blinked them back. Big boys didn’t cry.
But he had to be alone and think, so he fled into the mountains, silently venting his pain in the midst of the snow-laden pines.
Twenty years later
“You can never escape me, Hailey.”
Hailey Hitchcock inhaled to stifle a cry as Thad Jordan’s hands tightened around her jaw. She desperately wanted to scream, but it was useless. No one would hear.
An icy breeze swirled around her, sending her skirt flapping about her legs. Thad had been so angry with her on the way home from the Christmas dinner party that he’d pulled over on this deserted stretch of highway outside Denver, then half dragged, half carried her down a path in the woods. “It’s freezing out here, Thad, please take me home.”
“You’re bound to me forever,” he murmured.
A shudder rippled through her. His voice was as brittle as the winter wind. Why hadn’t she seen through his charismatic act to the devil that lay beneath? How could she have been such a bad judge of character?
Because he was an attorney. A well-respected, handsome man she’d thought she could trust. And he’d been so charming at first.
Until she’d told him she didn’t want to see him anymore, that she’d quit her job, bought a house and was moving. Then he’d revealed his hidden side.
He lowered his mouth to kiss her, the stench of bourbon on his breath. His other hand slid clumsily to her blouse, and he jerked a button loose.
Cold air assaulted her breasts. Her stomach convulsed.
“Please, Thad, stop. Go home. Sleep it off.”
“No. Nobody humiliates Thad Jordan.” His eyes darkened with an evil flare she’d never seen before. He looked menacing. Brutal. As if he meant to punish.
Then his fingers closed around the ruby necklace he’d given her, the cold stone dangling against her bare skin. “You accepted my gift, now accept that we’re together.”
“You can have the necklace back,” Hailey said, wishing she’d never let him put it on her in the first place. But he had insisted.
His fingers slid to her neck, and she swallowed, her heart racing. What was he going to do? Choke her? “Please, Thad,” Hailey whispered. “Take the necklace, then drive me home.”
His jaw snapped tight, then he backed her up against the tree. “I’ll never let you leave me, Hailey. You’re mine forever.”
Fear spiked her adrenaline, and she swung her knee into his groin. He released her with a bellow. “You’ll pay for that.”
Panic surged through her. She ran, jumping over the rotting tree stumps and bramble. He yelled and ran after her. She clawed her way through the forest, her breathing erratic. Leaves crunched behind her. He was chasing her. Closing the distance.
Briars stabbed her thighs, and she tripped over a tree stump. Her hands hit the dirt, and she struggled to regain her balance. Suddenly he was there. He latched on to her hair and jerked her so hard her neck nearly snapped. Dead brush and pine needles pricked her knees. She swept her hands blindly across the ground for a weapon. Just as he lowered his head, she clutched a branch, then jabbed it upward with all her might. He howled in pain, then fell backward cursing. Blood gushed from his cheek and eye.