Voices carry, p.1

Voices Carry, page 1

 

Voices Carry
 



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Voices Carry


  PRAISE FOR MARIAH STEWART

  AND HER MARVELOUS NOVELS OF

  ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

  BROWN-EYED GIRL

  “In the tradition of such bestselling suspense authors as Sandra Brown and Tami Hoag, Mariah Stewart crafts a mesmerizing tale. . . The world of romantic suspense has a new rising star and her name is Mariah Stewart!”

  —Under the Covers Reviews

  “Deftly combines the tingling excitement of a thriller with the passion of a true romance.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Mariah Stewart proves she can deliver first-class, pulse-pounding suspense while still retaining the type of romantic characters she is renowned for.”

  —The Belles and Beaux of Romance

  “Another great book by Mariah Stewart. . . A story that will appeal to readers who enjoy the psychological thrillers of Tami Hoag and Linda Howard.”

  —America Online Writers Club Romance Group

  “Mariah Stewart is sure to become the new Goddess of Romantic Suspense. Brown-Eyed Girl is a hardcover quality read at a mass-market paperback price readers will love.”

  —CompuServe Romance Reviews

  “The romantic suspense book of the year.”

  —Midwest Fiction Reviews

  PRICELESS

  “The very talented Ms. Stewart is rapidly building an enviable reputation for providing readers with outstanding stories and characters that are exciting, distinctive, and highly entertaining. Four and a half stars.”

  —Romantic Times

  “The best of romance and suspense. Flowing dialogue, wonderfully well-rounded and realistic characters, and beautifully descriptive passages fill the pages of Priceless. . . Not to be missed.”

  —RomCom.com

  “Ms. Stewart’s story lines flow like melted chocolate.”

  —America Online Writers Club Romance Group

  “In the style of Nora Roberts, Stewart weaves a powerful romance with suspense for a very compelling read.”

  —Under the Covers Reviews

  “An exceptionally gifted storyteller with a unique ability. . . [Stewart has] a rare talent that places her in the company of today’s bestselling romantic suspense authors.”

  —CompuServe Reviews

  MOON DANCE

  “Enchanting. . . a story filled with surprises.”

  —The Philadelphia Inquirer

  “Stewart’s books, like Nora Roberts’ sibling sagas. . . are about relationships. I can’t think of many writers who can do this better.”

  —Under the Cover Reviews

  “Filled with excitement, suspense, and a passionate love story, told by a master storyteller. A book to cherish.”

  —The Belles and Beaux of Romance

  “[Stewart] hits a home run out of the ballpark. . . a delightful contemporary romance.”

  —The Romance Reader

  WONDERFUL YOU

  “You can’t help but be caught up with all the sorrows, joys, and passion of this unforgettable family. Four and a half stars.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Wonderful You is delightful—romance, laughter, suspense! Totally charming and enchanting.”

  —The Philadelphia Inquirer

  “Mariah Stewart exceeds her own high standards of excellence with a work that compares favorably with the best of Barbara Delinsky and Belva Plain.”

  —Harriet Klausner, Amazon.com

  For orders other than by individual consumers, Pocket Books grants a discount on the purchase of 10 or more copies of single titles for special markets or premium use. For further details, please write to the Vice President of Special Markets, Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10020-1586.

  For information on how individual consumers can place orders, please write to Mail Order Department, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 100 Front Street, Riverside, NJ 08075.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  An Original Publication of POCKET BOOKS

  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  Copyright © 2001 by Marti Robb

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce

  this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue

  of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  ISBN: 0-671-78591-5

  eISBN-13: 978-0-6717-8591-8

  First Pocket Books printing February 2001

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  Front cover illustration by Ben Perini

  Printed in the U.S.A.

  For our much-loved cousin,

  Bonnie Bricker Almquist,

  who took me to a place where

  this story could have happened.

  VOICES CARRY

  1

  The nightmare always began the same way.

  Outside, the monotonous drone of cicadas would drift through the sultry midnight air. There would be faint light from the single bare yellow bulb that hung outside, over the front door, and cast a small pale spot of illumination within. Cheap handmade curtains, pulled back tightly to one side to permit the maximum amount of still air, hung on windows screened against mosquitoes and all those other things that flew about at night.

  She lay upon her cot, her light brown hair tousled around her child’s face, curled in sleep that had been long coming. She’d been willful that day, sneaking off during morning meditation to pick flowers to take to her older sister who’d been confined in the camp’s infirmary with another of the recurring headaches that had plagued her that summer. One of the counselors had reported the girl’s transgression to Brother Michael, and he’d chastised her—though not by name—before the entire camp at the end of evening prayers, rambling on and on about how some little camper’s spirit needed purification. She’d been standing near the back of the group that gathered in the prayer circle, and hadn’t been able to see him—she’d gone just about all summer without seeing his face—but she knew he’d been talking about her. Just about everyone knew that she’d been the one who’d made a forbidden raid on the flower garden that afternoon.

  She’d been surprised at having been let off with nothing more than a public berating. It had been well worth a few moments embarrassment to see her sister smile at the offer of a few daisies and the handful of pretty stones, stones that could be rubbed for luck and hidden under the pillow while she waited for her headache to wane.

  Only the sympathetic glances from some of the older girls as she’d passed them on her way to her cabin had disturbed her. She’d lain awake that night for a long time after lights out, trying to decipher what exactly it was that she’d read in their faces. After several hours of trying to define what she did not understand, she’d finally fallen into a sleep so deep that she hadn’t heard the cabin door open.

  Hadn’t felt the thin blanket being drawn down, nor the hands that had, with practiced deliberation, lifted her from her bed and carried her with measured steps out of the cabin and into the night.

  It wasn’t until he stumbled on the path, jolting her, that she’d awakened, disoriented and confused.

  “What. . . ?” she muttered.

  “Hush,” he’d whispered gruffly.

  “But where are you. . .” She attempted to twist away from him, but his arms only tightened around her.

  “Hush, I said.”

  “But
I don’t want. . .”

  Damp grass tickled her bare feet as she was lowered to the ground in one quick motion. One strong arm tightened around her neck, the hand clasped over her mouth.

  He dragged her along, the light of the moon dimly illuminating the path into the dense woods before them and playing off the gauzy white robe that hid all but his hands.

  She struggled, fear surging through her thin limbs with every step that he forced her to take.

  “I’ve been watching you, Genevieve. You are headstrong and disobedient and in need of purification,” he said in a low voice, not quite a whisper, now that they were on the path leading down through the woods toward the playing fields below, far away from the cabins. “It is my duty to consecrate your body and drive away the impiety that infects your spirit.”

  “Let me go.” She kicked blindly backward, catching his right knee with the sole of her foot.

  He grunted as her small foot hit its mark, then punished her with a blow to the back of her head with his fist.

  “I can see that you will require more than the usual hallowing.” He spoke softly, calmly, directly into her right ear.

  “Help! Hel—”

  The hand clasped over her mouth again, and he dragged her farther into the woods, her heart racing frantically as she struggled against his strong arms.

  Everyone knew that something bad lived deep in the forest, back beyond the pines. It was whispered among the younger girls that the woods were haunted, and sometimes late at night, she had thought she’d heard hushed cries carried on the sultry night wind. She, like the others, had sworn to never go past the dense wall of pines that bordered the end of the soccer field. She squeezed her eyes tightly closed. If one of the dreaded specters lurked about, she was pretty sure she didn’t want to see it.

  Finally, they reached a clearing where white candles set upon the ground glowed in the shape of an arc and where, with one swift movement of a foot, he took her legs out from under her and dropped her, flat on her back, onto the ground.

  Falling on top of her, he closed his eyes—those dark eyes that burned with an unnatural fire from within the frame of the hooded garment—and began to pray, even as he ripped her nightgown from the neckline to the hem.

  The last thing he’d expected was a well-aimed foot, powered as much by fury as by fear, to land squarely in his scrotum.

  Howling with pain, he fell back and to one side, just long enough for her to scramble onto her knees, onto her feet, and to disappear into the night.

  Clutching the halves of the torn nightgown, she ran along the dark path, swallowing back her cries as jagged stones and thorns, burrs and sticks, tormented the soles of her feet. But she never stopped running, and she never looked back. She simply ran and ran and ran, through the deepest part of the woods, her heart beating like the wings of a tiny bird within her chest, her breath coming in anxious puffs from her tired, tortured lungs in spite of her best efforts to make no sound, lest he hear and find her. Beneath her feet, unseen things crackled, and overhead, something called to the night. And still she ran, with no thought but to escape from Brother Michael while at the same time avoiding whatever other demons inhabited the dark places.

  At the edge of the woods, just a stone’s throw from the shoulder of the road, she paused. Crouching behind a large oak and straining her ears to listen, she gathered her tattered nightgown around her so that it would not flutter in the slight breeze that had picked up. As the pounding in her chest and in her head began to subside, she realized that no footsteps followed behind her on the path. Was it possible that he’d given up trying to find her? Afraid to believe that he or something else equally evil wasn’t just beyond the last bend in the path, she did her best to blend into the shadows, alternately watching the road and watching the path.

  Headlights from an approaching car lit up the night suddenly, then just as suddenly disappeared.

  Somewhere nearby, she knew, was a lake. And around the lake, there were cottages. That would surely be her best bet to find a safe place to hide. But which way was the lake?

  She leaned back against the tree, trying to get her bearings, trying to remember what Mrs. Allen, her teacher, had told the class to do when you are lost. This was the same Mrs. Allen who had taught them that when someone tried to touch you in places where you knew they shouldn’t, that you needed to get away by any means possible and get help. Mrs. Allen’s advice had already come in handy once that night.

  When you’re lost, retrace your steps.

  Well, she couldn’t very well do that. Not with Brother Michael—and who knows what else—back there someplace.

  She concentrated really hard, forcing herself to think, trying to take that journey again in her mind.

  Brother Michael had taken her down past the tennis courts. Across the soccer field. She remembered seeing the goalposts in the moonlight. Then down a path slightly to the right, far into the woods, to the clearing where the candles had flickered and glowed. From there, it seemed she’d run downhill a lot.

  She remembered that once she had stood on the top bleacher at the soccer field, and she had seen the lake straight ahead. There was a narrow stretch of beach there, but nothing else, a cyclone fence closing it off to the rest of the world. Somewhere off to the right, however, beyond the fences, there had been small houses. And, she reasoned, since she’d run to the right through the woods, the lake and its cabins should be just ahead, on the other side of the road.

  She rose quietly, cautiously, then as quickly as she could, ran from the shelter of the trees to cross the road. Slipping furtively as a wraith into the small grove of wild roses, she waited, still listening for the sounds of a pursuit that did not come. When she was convinced, finally, that she had not been followed, she picked her way through the thorny bushes, and keeping to the shadows, walked toward the lake and the small community of summer cottages she knew awaited just around that curve in the narrow road.

  All she wanted was a place to hide, a place to rest for a few hours. What she would do after the sun rose the next day. . . well, she’d have to figure that out in the morning.

  Exhausted, she leaned against the mailbox at the end of the short driveway of the first house. The dog barking from the screened porch frightened her, and she skittered away in the dark, on feet too painful to think about, to the next house.

  A dim light over the front steps cast just enough of a glow that she could find her way to the back of the small cottage, which had a deck overlooking a long expanse of grass that led down to the lake. Hugging the shadows, she crept up the three wooden steps and settled into the farthest corner, her back to the wall, her knees drawn up to her chest. She was cold all of a sudden, despite the night’s heat and humidity, and she began to shiver. Pulling the torn nightgown tightly around her small form, she tried to keep sleep at bay by singing, in the tiniest of whispers.

  “Jesus loves me, this I know. . .”

  Over and over, until finally, even this comforting assurance could no longer keep her awake.

  She was barely nine years old.

  Genna Snow awoke in a sweat, shaking and disoriented, her fingers twisted tautly in the sheets. She slammed herself upright, her back against the wooden headboard, and drew the soft, lightweight blanket up to her neck. And there she sat, shivering with the deep chill that invaded her entire body, her heart racing, while she tried to will her erratic breathing under control.

  Eventually, her heart slowed to its regular beat, the sweating stopped, and her hands loosened their grip on the blanket. She stretched her legs out in front of her, the muscles aching from having been clenched so tightly in the same position for. . . how long?

  From the next street, church bells chimed one, the only sound in her oh-so-quiet apartment.

  One o’clock in the morning. The dream had come just past midnight.

  No great mystery there, she thought as she swung her legs over the side of the bed where she sat for another moment or two, taking deep breath
s. The dream had always come around the same time, though it had been so long since she’d had it that she had almost convinced herself that her demons might be gone forever. Disconcerted to discover she’d been wrong, Genna lowered her feet to the soft carpeting and trudged into the bathroom where she snapped on the light and without confronting her image in the mirror, turned on the faucet and splashed water on her face, over and over again, as if to wash away any last remnants of the dream. It wasn’t until she lifted her head to dry herself with a soft blue towel that she caught her reflection.

  Damp hair the color of rich, dense honey, more brown than gold and mussed from sleep, curled around a face that watched the world from a wary vantage. Pallid skin, devoid of its usual natural blush, set off by dark hazel eyes that were wide-set and haunted.

  “Hardly the face of a self-assured FBI agent,” Genna muttered, dispassionately assessing the woman before her.

  Turning off the bathroom light, she returned to her bed, where she straightened the summer weight blanket before getting beneath it. Punching the pillow to slightly elevate her head, she stared at the ceiling, trying to figure out why the dream had come back now. She’d done her best to keep certain old memories where she believed they belonged—in the past—and wasn’t pleased that through the dream, they had surfaced to disturb her now, when she had more than enough on her mind.

  That must be it, she assured herself as she turned over in the dark. It must be just that there’s so much going on at work right now—so many cases to deal with. And that situation being compounded by the fact that Steven Decker, the Special Agent in Charge, or SAC, of the field office to which she’d been reassigned earlier in the year, had called her late in the previous afternoon to tell her that she needed to be in his office at ten the next morning. It wouldn’t have done any good to have asked why. Decker liked his little moments of suspense, liked to keep his people guessing. It was just one of the little games he liked to play with the agents under his command.

  Maybe he’s come up with a new report form he wants us to start using, she almost smiled, relaxing—finally—for the first time in hours. Decker loved his forms. . .

 
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