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Chyna had to warn him, not solely for his sake but for her own, for Laura’s. He was their only hope.


Certain that the spider-eating intruder was nearby, she expected a savage attack and, abandoning caution, flew at the front door. The oval rug rucked beneath her feet, twisted, and nearly spun out from under her. She stumbled, reached out to break her fall, and slammed both palms flat against the front door.


Such a noise, hellacious noise, booming through the house, had surely drawn the killer’s attention away from the approaching truck.


Chyna fumbled, found the knob, and twisted it. The door was unlocked. Gasping, she pulled it open.


A cool breeze out of the northwest, faintly scented by freshly turned vineyard earth and fungicide, whistled through the bare limbs of the maple trees that flanked the front walkway. Snuffling like a pack of hounds, it rushed past her into the foyer as she stepped out onto the front porch.


The truck had already passed the house and was heading away from her. It would come around for a second approach on the end-loop of the driveway, which was wide enough to accommodate produce haulers in the harvest season, and park facing out toward the county road. But it wasn’t a truck after all. A motor home. An older model with rounded lines, well kept, forty feet long, either blue or green. Its chrome glimmered like quicksilver under the late-winter moon.


Amazed that she had not yet been stabbed or shot or struck from behind, glancing back at the open front door where the killer hadn’t yet appeared, Chyna headed for the porch steps.


The motor home rounded the end of the loop, beginning to turn toward her. Its twin beams swept across the Templetons’ barn and other outbuildings.


Larch and maple and evergreen shadows fled before the arcing headlights. They flickered darkly through the trellis at the end of the porch, along the white balustrade, across the lawn and the stone walkway, stretching impossibly, swooping into the night as if trying frantically to tear free of the trees that cast them.


The deep quiet in the house, the lack of lights downstairs, the killer’s failure to attack her as she escaped, the timely arrival of the motor home — suddenly all of those things made chilling sense. The killer was driving the motor home.


“No.”


Chyna swiftly retreated from the porch steps and scrambled back into the foyer.


At her heels, the headlights came all the way around the end of the driveway loop. They pierced the trellis grid, projecting geometric patterns across the porch floor and the front wall of the house.


She closed the door and fumbled for the big lock above the knob. Found the thumb-turn. Engaged the heavy deadbolt.


Then she realized her mistake. The front door had been unlocked because the killer had gone out that way. If he found it locked now, he would know that Laura wasn’t the only person alive in the house, and the hunt would begin.


Her sweaty fingers slipped on the brass thumb-turn, but the bolt snapped open with a hard clack.


Earlier, he must have parked the vehicle near the end of the half-mile-long driveway, out toward the county road, and must have walked to the house.


Now tires crunched through gravel. Air brakes issued a soft whoosh and a softer whine, and the motor home came to a full stop in front of the house.


Remembering the oval rug that had turned under her feet and had nearly sent her sprawling, Chyna dropped to her knees. She crawled across the wool, smoothing the rumples with her hands. If the killer tripped over the disarranged rug, he would know that it hadn’t been in that condition when he’d left.


Footsteps arose outside: boot heels ringing off the flagstone walkway.


Chyna came to her feet and turned toward the study. No good. She couldn’t know for sure where he would go when he reentered the house, and if he stepped into the study, she would be trapped in there with him.


His tread echoed hollowly from the wooden porch steps.


Chyna lunged across the foyer, through the archway, into the dark living room — and immediately came to a halt, afraid of stumbling into furniture and knocking it over. She edged forward, feeling her way with both hands, vision hampered by the muddy-red ghost images of the motor-home headlights, which still floated faintly across her retinas.


The front door opened.


Less than halfway across the living room, Chyna squatted beside an armchair. If the killer entered and switched on the lights, he would see her.


Without closing the door behind him, the man appeared in the foyer, beyond the arch. He was dimly limned by the glow from the second-floor hallway. He passed the living room and went directly to the stairs.


Laura.


Chyna still had no weapon.


She thought of the fireplace poker. Not good enough. Unless she caved in his skull on the first blow or broke his arm, he would wrest the poker away from her. She had the strength of terror, but maybe that wouldn’t be enough.


Rather than rise to her feet and blunder blindly across the living room, she stayed down and crawled because it was safer and quicker. She reached the dining-room archway and angled toward where she thought she’d find the kitchen door.


She thumped into a chair. It rattled against a table leg. On the table, something shifted with a clink-clink, and she remembered seeing carefully arranged ceramic fruit in a copper bowl.


She didn’t think that he could have heard these sounds all the way upstairs, so she kept going. There was nothing to do but keep going anyway, whether he had heard or not.


When she reached the swinging door sooner than she had expected, she got to her feet.


Though the infiltrating moonlight was already dim, it suddenly faded away, causing the flesh on the nape of her neck to crawl with a dire expectation. She turned, pressing her back against the doorframe, certain that the killer was close behind her, silhouetted in front of a window, blocking the lunar glow, but he wasn’t there. The silver radiance no longer painted the glass. Evidently the storm clouds, rolling out of the northwest since before midnight, had finally shrouded the moon.


Pushing on the swinging door, she went into the kitchen.


She wouldn’t need to switch on the overhead fluorescent panels. The upper of the double ovens featured a digital clock with green numerals that emitted a surprising amount of light, enough to allow her to find her way around the room.


She. recalled having seen a section of butcher-block countertop to one side of the stainless-steel sinks. The sinks were in front of the wider of the two windows. She slid her hand along the cold granite counters until she located the remembered wooden surface.


The house above her seemed filled with a higher order of silence than ever before.


What’s the bastard doing up there in all that silence, up there in all that silence with Laura?


Under the butcher block was a drawer where she expected to find knives. Found them. Neatly slotted in a holder.


She withdrew one. Too short. Another. This one was a bread knife with a blunt round end. The third that she selected proved to be a butcher knife. She carefully tested the cutting edge against the ball of her thumb and found it satisfyingly sharp.


Upstairs, Laura screamed.


Chyna started toward the dining-room door but sensed intuitively that she dared not go that way. She rushed instead to the back stairs, even though they couldn’t be climbed without making noise.


She switched on the light in the stairwell. The killer could not see her here.


From the second floor, Laura cried out again — a terrible wail of despair, pain, horror, like a cry that might have been heard in the poison-gas chambers at Dachau or in the windowless interrogation rooms of Siberian prisons during the era of the gulags. It was not a scream for help or even a begging for mercy, but a plea for release at any cost, even death.


Chyna clambered up the stairs into that scream, which presented her with real resistance, as if she were a swimmer struggling toward the surface of a sea, against a great weight of water. As cold as an Arctic current, the cry chilled her, numbed her, throbbed icily in the hollows of her bones. She was overcome by a compulsion to scream with Laura as a dog wails in sympathy when it hears another dog suffering, a primal need to howl in misery at the sheer helplessness of human existence in a universe full of dead stars, and she had to fight that urge.


Laura’s scream spiraled into a bawling for her mother, though she must know that her mother was dead. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommeeeeee.” She was reduced to the dependency of an infant, too terrified of life itself to find solace anywhere but in the familiar succoring breast and in the sound of that same heartbeat remembered from the womb.


And then sudden quiet.


Bleak silence.


On the landing, halfway to the second floor, Chyna was surprised to realize that the thousand-fathom weight of the scream had brought her to a standstill. Her legs were weak; her calf and thigh muscles quivered as if she had run a marathon. She seemed on the brink of collapse.


Because it might signify the end of hope, the silence was now as oppressive as the scream. She bent her head under a hush as heavy as an iron crown, hunched her shoulders, and huddled miserably upon herself.


It would be so easy to lean against the wall, slide down to the floor, put the knife aside, and curl defensively. Just wait until he had gone away. Wait until a relative or a friend of the family arrived, discovered the bodies, went for the police, and took care of everything.


Instead, after pausing only a few seconds on the landing, Chyna forced herself to continue the climb, heart pounding so hard that it seemed as if each blow might knock her down.


Her arms shook uncontrollably. In her white-knuckle grip, the butcher knife carved wobbly patterns in the air in front of her, and she wondered if she would have the strength, in any confrontation, to thrust and slash effectively.


That was the thinking of a loser, and she hated herself for it. During the past ten years she had transformed herself into a winner, and she was determined not to backslide.


The old wooden stairs protested under her, but she moved fast, heedless of the noise. Whether Laura was alive or dead, the killer would be at play, distracted by his games, unlikely to hear anything other than the thunderous rush of his own blood in his ears and over whatever urgent inner voices spoke to him at that very moment when he held a life in his hands.


She stepped into the upstairs hall. Propelled by her fear for Laura and by a rage born from self-disgust at her moment of weakness on the landing, she hurried past the closed door of the guest room to the turn in the L-shaped corridor, around the corner, past the half-open door of the master suite and through the amber light that spilled from it. She dashed along the arbor of faded roses, rage swelling into fury as she went, shocked by her own boldness, seeming to glide along the carpet, as swift as if sliding down an icy slope, straight to the open door of Laura’s room, without hesitation, knife raised high, her arm no longer shaking, steady and sure, crazy with terror and despair and righteousness, across the threshold and into the bedroom, where Freud was unshaken by what had happened under his gaze — and where the rumpled bed was empty.


Chyna whirled around in disbelief. Laura was gone. The room was deserted.


Over the rush of her breathing and the booming of her heart, she heard the rattle-clink of a shackle chain. Not in the room. Elsewhere.


Careless of danger, she returned to the hall, to the balustrade that overlooked the foyer.


Below, barely illuminated by the pale light from the upstairs hallway, the killer went through the open front door onto the porch. He was carrying Laura in his arms. She was wrapped in a bedsheet, one pale arm trailing limply, head lolling to the side, and face concealed by her golden hair: unconscious, offering no resistance.


He must have been descending the shadowy stairs when Chyna had passed them. She had been so focused on getting to Laura’s room, so pumped for the attack, that she hadn’t been aware of him, even though the chain and the cuffs must have been rattling then as well.


Evidently, he’d been making enough noise that he hadn’t heard Chyna either.


Instinct had told her to take the back stairs, and she’d been wise to listen. If she’d been ascending the front stairs, she’d have met him as he’d been coming down. He would have thrown Laura at her, followed the two of them as they tumbled into the foyer, kicked the knife out of Chyna’s hand if she hadn’t lost it already, and savaged her where she’d fallen.


She couldn’t let him take Laura away.


Afraid that thinking about the situation would paralyze her again, Chyna recklessly descended the stairs. If she could take him by surprise and plunge the knife into his back, Laura might yet have a chance.


She could do it too. She wasn’t squeamish. She could slam the blade deep, try for his heart from the back, puncture a lung, yank the knife out of him and ram it in again, stab the son of a bitch and listen to him squealing for mercy and stab stab stab him until he was silent forever. Never had she done anything like that; never had she hurt anyone. But she could do it now, waste him, because she was terrified for Laura, because she was sick at the thought of failing her friend — and because she was a natural-born vengeance machine, a human being.


At the bottom of the stairs, the oval rug didn’t spin out from under her as it had done before, and she went straight toward the open door.


She no longer held the knife high but held it low, at her side. If he heard her coming, he would turn, and then she could swing the knife up in an arc, under the girl that he held in his arms, and into his belly. That was better than trying to plunge it into his back, where the point might be deflected by a shoulder blade or rib, or might skid off his spine. Go for the softest part of him. She’d be face-to-face with him that way. Looking straight into his eyes. Would that make her hesitate? He had it coming. The bastard. She thought of Sarah on the floor of the shower stall, huddled na*ed in the cold drizzle. She could do it. She could do it.


Into the doorway, across the threshold, onto the porch, she was not only ready to kill but prepared to die in the attempt to get him. Yet as swift as she had been, she hadn’t been swift enough, because he was not just that moment going down the porch steps, as she had hoped, but was already nearing the motor home. The burden of Laura hadn’t slowed him at all. He was inhumanly quick.


She landed on only one stair tread from the front porch to the walkway, and the rubber soles of her shoes slapped the flagstones loud enough to carry even over the moaning of the wind. The moon was gone, and half the stars as well, displaced by towering palisades of clouds, but if the killer heard her and turned, he would be able to see her clearly.


Evidently, he didn’t hear, for he didn’t glance back, and Chyna angled off the walkway, onto the quieter grass, determinedly going after him.


Two doors were open on the motor home: one at the driver’s side of the cockpit, the other on that same flank of the vehicle but two-thirds of the way toward the back. The killer chose the rear door.

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