Lethal

By: Sandra Brown

Chapter 1





Mommy?”

“Hmm?”

“Mommy?”

“Hmm?”

“There’s a man in the yard.”

“What’s that?”

The four-year-old came to stand at the corner of the kitchen table and gazed yearningly at the frosting her mother was applying to the top of the cupcake. “Can I have some, Mommy?”

“May I have some. When I’m done, you can lick the bowl.”

“You made chocolate.”

“Because chocolate is your favorite, and you’re my favorite girl,” she said, giving the child a wink. “And,” she added, drawing out the word, “I’ve got sprinkles to add as soon as I’m finished with the icing.”

Emily beamed, then her face puckered with concern. “He’s sick.”

“Who’s sick?”

“The man.”

“What man?”

“In the yard.”

Emily’s statements finally penetrated that innate mom-screen that filtered out unimportant chatter. “There’s really a man outside?” Honor placed the iced cupcake on the platter, returned the spatula to the bowl of frosting, and absently wiped her hands on a dishtowel as she stepped around the child.

“He’s lying down because he’s sick.”

Emily trailed her mother as she made her way from kitchen to living room. Honor looked through the front window, turning her head from one side to the other, but all she saw was the lawn of St. Augustine grass sloping gradually down to the dock.

Beyond the dock’s weathered wood planks the waters of the bayou moved indolently, a dragonfly skimming the surface and causing an occasional ripple. The stray cat, who refused to take Honor seriously when she told him that this was not his home, was stalking unseen prey in her bed of brightly colored zinnias.

“Em, there’s not—”

“By the bush with the white flowers,” Emily said stubbornly. “I saw him through the window in my room.”

Honor went to the door, unlocked it, slid the bolt, stepped out onto the porch, and looked in the direction of the rose of Sharon shrub.

And there he was, lying facedown, partially on his left side, his face turned away from her, his left arm outstretched above his head. He lay motionless. Honor didn’t even detect movement of his rib cage to indicate that he was breathing.

Quickly she turned and gently pushed Emily back through the door. “Sweetie, go into Mommy’s bedroom. My phone is on the nightstand. Bring it to me, please.” Not wanting to frighten her daughter, she kept her voice as calm as possible, but hurriedly took the steps down off the porch and ran across the dewy grass toward the prone figure.

When she got closer, she saw that his clothing was filthy, torn in places, and bloodstained. There were smears of blood on the exposed skin of his outstretched arm and hand. A clot of it had matted a whorl of dark hair on the crown of his head.

Honor knelt down and touched his shoulder. When he moaned, she exhaled with relief. “Sir? Can you hear me? You’re hurt. I’ll call for help.”

He sprang up so quickly she didn’t even have time to recoil, much less to defend herself. He struck with lightning speed and precision. His left hand shot out and closed around the back of her neck, while with his right hand he jammed the short, blunt barrel of a handgun into the slight depression where her ribs met. He aimed it upward and to the left, directly in line with her heart, which had ballooned with fright.

“Who else is here?”

Her vocal cords were frozen with fear; she couldn’t speak.

He squeezed the back of her neck and repeated with sinister emphasis, “Who else is here?”

It took several tries before she was able to stammer, “My… my dau—”

“Anybody besides the kid?”

She shook her head. Or tried. He had a death grip on the back of her neck. She could feel the pressure of each individual finger.

His blue eyes cut like lasers. “If you’re lying to me…”

He didn’t even have to complete the threat to coax a whimper from her. “I’m not lying. I swear. We’re alone. Don’t hurt us. My daughter… she’s only four years old. Don’t hurt her. I’ll do whatever you say, just don’t—”