From the USA Today bestselling author of White Out comes a story of two heroines with shattered pasts and a town with blood on its hands.
When a North Dakota couple is shot down in their home in cold blood, the sleepy town of Hagen wakes with a jolt. After all, it’s usually such a peaceful place. But Detective Kylie Milliard knows better.
Despite not handling a homicide investigation in years, Kylie is on the case. A drop of blood found at the scene at first blush promises to be her best evidence. But it ultimately only proves that someone else witnessed the murder—and the results are shocking: the DNA reveals a familial match to a crime involving local nurse Lily Baker from over a decade ago. This unveiling stirs new nightmares for Lily as she’s forced to reckon with the most traumatic time in her life.
Haunted by their pasts and hunting the killer, Kylie and Lily uncover hellish secrets and impossible truths, finding answers that put both their lives in jeopardy.
Release date: June 15, 2021
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
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The pills Hannah Visser had taken were hitting her bloodstream, softening her vision and rendering her limbs tingly and loose, when she reached the Garzas’ door, late to babysit their infant daughter. She paused on the walkway to respond to her brother’s third text, then shut off her phone to end the conversation. He was out of town with their mother tonight, which meant no one would be home. Bonus. Her knuckles had barely grazed the front door when it swung open, revealing Nadine Garza in a bright-yellow blouse with white cheetah print and the kind of black jeans that were actually leggings. Jeggings. An old-person thing, but in Nadine’s defense, she did just have a baby.
“Hannah. So good to see you,” Nadine said and looked as though she might hug Hannah. Instead, the woman stepped aside and waved her into the house. “Come in, come in.”
“Sorry I’m late,” Hannah said.
“No worries. I appreciate you getting yourself out here. Ben will take you home.”
“Sure,” Hannah said, wishing once again that she could fast-forward the twenty-one months until her sixteenth birthday so she could drive herself. Those after-babysitting car rides from dads were usually weird, but Ben was better than most. He talked to her about the world. About leaving Hagen and coming back. He treated her like an adult, like she mattered. He might be the only one. Her older brother and her parents treated her like a kindergartner. Where are you? When will you be home?
“We’re almost ready,” Nadine said. “You hungry?”
The drugs were a warm buzz. She couldn’t imagine feeling hungry ever again. Every inch of her was full and calm. The embarrassed rush she normally felt when forced to make eye contact with adults was absent. She could speak clearly, be confident. It was the most perfect sensation in the world. “I’m fine,” Hannah said honestly.
“Well, you can help yourself. There’s a bottle ready for Tiffany and two more in the fridge. Plus there’s always formula in the container beside the coffee maker.”
This wasn’t the first time Hannah had babysat Tiffany, but it was the first time she had watched the baby at night. The other times had been a few hours during the day so Nadine could go to a meeting or do a few hours of work. Nadine was an accountant at Chase Visser Interiors, Hannah’s much-older brother’s business.
“Nadine always thinks Tiffany is going to eat like a linebacker when she’s not around,” Ben Garza said, coming down the hallway from the bedroom in a white button-down shirt. Where Nadine was broad shouldered and stocky, Ben was narrow and lean. It wasn’t hard to imagine Nadine could take him in a fight, not that Hannah had ever seen the Garzas fight. Unlike her own parents, who were at each other’s throats constantly.
“It’s true,” Nadine said, laughing with her husband.
With Ben and Nadine making final preparations, Hannah made her way to Tiffany, who lay sleeping quietly. The Garzas had put a wicker bassinet in one corner of the great room, which, Nadine had explained, was the only location in the space where the baby wouldn’t feel a breeze every time the front door opened or closed. Tucked out of view of the front door and along the wall between the coat closet and the entrance to the bathroom, the spot was its own little weather system.
Hannah dropped her backpack and lined up several pairs of boots that were spilling out from the closet. Living in North Dakota meant owning a lot of coats and boots. Her own mother had a system for boots that limited each member of the family to one pair at the front of the house. Everything else was relegated to the mudroom. Her mother had a lot of rules.
Hands freed, Hannah stood over the bassinet, where Tiffany was bending and straightening her legs like they were attached with springs. Tiffany wore a gummy smile as Hannah leaned over to kiss her. The motion made her momentarily dizzy, the strength of the drugs showing itself. Adam had warned her that two pills would leave her on her ass—of course, he’d warned her after she’d taken them. She only hoped the Garzas would leave already. If Nadine realized Hannah was high, then it would be no time before her whole family knew.
Holding the bassinet to steady herself, Hannah leaned down and kissed the baby on one rosy cheek. “Hi, sweet Tiffany.”
Hannah was about to lift the baby when the front door opened and closed with a whine of hinges and a thwack as it struck the casing. Had they been expecting someone else? Just what she needed—one more witness to how high she was.
“Neither of you move.” The man’s voice was commanding.
The words startled Hannah into looking up. But the front door wasn’t visible from where she stood. A joke? But Nadine’s face had gone white, her palms midair and body frozen. Instinct drove Hannah backward, first behind the closet door, then farther into the dark hollow of coats.
A boot sounded on the linoleum entryway, directly opposite the closet wall. The single step propelled Ben into action. He dropped Nadine’s coat and stuck out his palms as though to halt an oncoming truck. “What the—”
“Hands up.” The man’s voice again.
Both Ben and Nadine raised their hands into the air while Hannah took another step backward, rolling her ankle on one of the boots on the floor. A cry corked in her throat as she caught herself against the closet wall, fighting to be silent. Her heart beat hard and heavy under her ribs. By shifting left and right, Hannah could see the Garzas through the opening on the hinge side of the closet door.
“What the hell are you doing?” Ben asked. “No!”
Hannah cowered as Ben cried out. When she looked up, he staggered and dropped to his knees, then fell like a stone. Was he shot? She hadn’t heard gunfire.
Nadine shrieked, lunging toward him.
But the man barked something unintelligible, and Nadine froze. Hands in the air, she shook her head. “What are you doing? Why are you—”
Nadine was still speaking when a gun fired, an explosion of sound.
Hannah jolted, stunned at the volume of the noise. The echo of the bullet ricocheted in the quiet house. In her bassinet, Tiffany’s legs kicked, but she made no noise. How was that possible? Stay quiet, sweet girl. When nothing happened, Hannah thought it had been a warning shot. Ben lay on the floor, but he had been there already. His eyes were open and moving. He was alive.
Nadine had shifted sideways, a little stumble, but she was still standing. Her mouth was moving, but there were no words. And then Hannah saw it—the red blossoming like a flower across the bright-yellow blouse. The realization was slow to sink through the drugs. Blood. Nadine’s blood was soaking her blouse. That man had shot Nadine.
A silent scream coursed its way from her toes as Hannah pressed into the body of coats, fighting to hold it in. This was a nightmare. A side effect of the drugs. She would wake up and never take another pill, as long as she lived. She just needed to wake up. Squeezing her eyes closed, she dug her fingernails into the heels of her hands, fighting panic. When Hannah opened her eyes, the red flower on Nadine’s blouse had grown. Nadine’s eyes were wide, her mouth like one of Hannah’s father’s trout—open, closed, open, closed, in a silent struggle.
The tiny closet space grew smaller. Hannah’s pulse drilled into the wall behind her head as she witnessed Nadine topple face-first onto the carpet.
This is real. This is real. Hannah tried to stop fighting what she saw. This wasn’t a hallucination. She blinked. Did it twice more. A man had shot Nadine.
Minutes earlier, Nadine had been so alive.
And now she was probably dead.
The house was quiet, the thrumming of her own pulse the only sound. Her feet tingled where they were falling asleep from her awkward crouch. She tried to wiggle her toes, to keep her eyes open. How badly she wanted to close them.
A shadow crossed into the hallway, then vanished. The shooter had gone to the bedroom. Hannah reached out to pull the closet door toward her but stopped. If the shooter saw the motion of the door, if he noticed a change in its position . . . no. She crossed her arms over her stomach, pressing against the desire to throw up.
Ben groaned from the floor, and suddenly, as though he’d only just gotten control of his voice, he shouted his wife’s name, a cry of grief that Hannah felt in her knees.
The light shifted again, the shooter returning. Hannah didn’t dare look.
Ben’s sobs filled the empty space.
“Shut up,” the man warned, and there was the sound of swallowed hiccups and heavy, stilted breaths from Ben.
The next thing Hannah heard was a low grunt of exertion. She thought of her father, the sound he’d made struggling to unearth the ugly juniper bush from the front yard last summer. Hannah edged forward to peer through the crack in the hinges. She saw the man’s back, light-brown hair cut short. A tan jacket, Carhartt, she thought. The same kind every man in Hagen owned, including her brother and her father. Ben was seated in a chair. His hands were bound behind him with a piece of red-and-blue striped fabric. The triangular cut at the bottom told her it was a man’s necktie.
Ben slumped forward, chest heaving.
Hannah leaned back, pressing her hand to her mouth as tears streamed down her face. Was this man going to torture Ben? Was she going to be here for hours? She couldn’t hide that long. She’d give herself away; then she’d be dead. Like Nadine.
The man spoke softly, his words too quiet to distinguish. Speaking to Ben. Something about his tone was familiar. When she inched forward again, she watched the shooter tie Ben’s legs to the chair with two more neckties. He’d taken off his coat, and the muscles in his shoulders and back were visible through his navy T-shirt as he maneuvered the ties around Ben’s legs. But why? Why was he doing this?
Ben struggled against the restraints, twisting left and right. A long strip of duct tape crossed his mouth. The man pressed a hand on Ben’s shoulder and spoke softly to him.
Ben reared up, standing and bringing the chair with him. But the man shoved him down. The chair tipped and Ben fell over, landing on his shoulder.
The man cursed and hoisted the chair upright again.
Then the gun was pressed to Ben’s head.
She heard the man say the word baby.
Every cell in Hannah’s body screamed, No. No, please. Not Ben. The baby needed her daddy. Every girl needed her daddy. She pressed her knuckles to her teeth, biting back her screams.
Ben shook his head. His chest lifted, his shoulders set in preparation to fight.
Please let him get away.
The gun exploded again. Hannah heard her breath in her throat, covered her mouth, choked and sobbed. Tiffany’s bassinet trembled as the baby kicked, but still the baby was silent. When Hannah looked again, the left side of Ben’s head was gone. A divot remained, filled with what reminded her of raw meat. Blood and bits of tissue were sprayed as far as the wall. Ben’s brain.
She huddled into the closet, gagging as her mouth filled with vomit. She swallowed it down, acid burning her throat. She was alone. Ben and Nadine were dead. She was next. Unless she stayed silent, stayed hidden. She pressed herself harder against the closet wall as though it might open up and swallow her, make her disappear.
The shooter grunted, and there was a rasp of the duct tape being ripped from Ben’s mouth. She leaned in to see. Ben’s hands were loose at his sides, the neckties removed from his wrists and ankles. The shooter tipped the chair, and Ben dropped, lifeless, to the floor.
Bits of tissue and blood sprayed out around him as he fell, and Hannah clamped her mouth shut. Fought down the next wave of bile that flooded her throat.
She leaned back and closed her eyes. Don’t watch. She heard more sounds, working sounds. A zipper and then the crinkle of a plastic bag. And then another gunshot that made her heart rocket to her throat. Her eyes shot open at the thought of Tiffany. But the bassinet was in her line of sight, and the man nowhere close.
The light seemed to wink at her; teasing or comforting, she couldn’t tell. It all felt surreal. As she eyed the coats around her, she had the thought again that maybe all of this was an invention of her mind. The Garzas had put on their coats and gone on their date. She was alone in the house with Tiffany, the drugs playing tricks on her. Had her dealer given her a hallucinogenic as some kind of sick joke? Would Adam do that?
The thud of the killer’s boots on the floor returned her to the cruel reality. Nadine and Ben were dead. It was true. Boots crossed the carpet with muffled thumps as the man made his way through the house. Several moments passed before the boots crossed a hard floor. The kitchen? She heard the screech of springs. A screen door. He was going out the back.
Don’t move. Don’t do anything. She’d be okay. He was leaving.
It would all be over.
As the screech of the springs crested to its highest note, Tiffany let out a piercing wail from her bassinet.
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