Page 5

“Okay,” Ana said, setting down her burden. “Now I’ll have a beer. Want one?”


Ana headed for the refrigerator and produced two icy bottles, which they clinked together in a toast. “To you living here full-time,” Ana said.

“I always knew I would, but I really didn’t want the day to come,” Christina told her.

“She lived a good long life,” Ana said.

A long life, but an often painful one, Christina thought. Gran had lost Granda too soon, and then, much too young, her daughter and son, and their spouses, but she had called on an inner reserve and been there for her three grandchildren. Maybe she had been tired. Ready to join those who had gone before her.

“Ah, that she did,” Christina said softly, lifting her bottle again and offering her best imitation of her grandmother’s heavy accent.

The doorbell rang again. The two of them hurried to answer it.

“Hey, is Jed coming?” Christina asked Ana.

“He said he was. But that won’t be him. He said he was meeting a friend for something work-related this afternoon and he’d be late if he came at all.”

“Who would have figured he’d become a bestselling writer, huh?” Christina asked.

“I thought he was going to be a football hero and get me lots of dates,” Ana said with a sigh.

Christina rolled her eyes at her friend, shaking her head. Strange, she barely knew Jed anymore. He’d seemed like a god when they’d been kids. She’d seen him at her grandmother’s funeral, where he’d been reserved but kind, but she’d felt so bereft that she’d barely noticed anyone. He’d said the right things, though. While everyone else had been telling her what a good and long life her grandmother had lived, he had simply said that he knew how she would miss her gran, and that losing someone hurt, no matter how old they’d been, even if knowing they’d had a long life and lived it well eventually helped with the healing process.

He would know, she thought, having lost his wife when she was only twenty-five.

“Hey, there, you two,” she said, pleased, as she opened the door. Dan and Mike had come together. They were just a year apart and had often been taken for twins, they were so much alike. Dan had half an inch over his older brother’s height of six two, but they both had the deep red hair that seemed to run with an unbridled strength in the family, and the warm hazel eyes that had been Gran’s. Her own were blue—her father’s eyes.

“Welcome home, little cutie,” Dan said, stepping in and giving her a hug.

“Little? She’s five ten, if she’s an inch,” Michael said, shaking his head as he followed his brother inside. They loved to tease her about her height. It had started when she reached her current max in eighth grade and never stopped.

“Ha, ha, love you, too,” she said, accepting a hug from Michael in turn. They were both good-looking and always had been. She peered past them to the porch, then stared at them, puzzled.

“What, no dates?”

“Ana told us it was family night,” Dan said, grinning.

“Hey, there’s a real little bit,” Michael said, catching hold of Ana and lifting her up for a hug. She really was tiny—five feet even—and they loved to tease her, too.

“Put me down,” Ana commanded, then swung on Daniel. “And don’t you even think about it.”

“I’m innocent,” Dan said.

“Like hell,” Ana muttered, but she gave him a grin. Adulthood had taken them in different directions, but it didn’t matter. A bond had been formed when they were young, when this house, and Gran, brought them together, and it had never been broken.

Only Jed Braden had been on the outside, Christina thought. A year older than Michael, two years older than Dan. And somehow different, set apart. Maybe it had been his determination to go into the service. Not because he longed to go to war, but because he wanted the benefits to get through college. He’d been gone a lot once he joined up, and then he’d gotten married in a beautiful ceremony to the gorgeous, gentle Margaritte. He’d drawn even further away from them after that, shouldering increasing responsibility by becoming a cop and then a detective.

And then a widower and famous but semireclusive writer.

She shook off thoughts of Jed. It felt slightly uncomfortable somehow, seeing him again.

Maybe because they seemed to meet all too frequently at funerals.

“Hey,” she said cheerfully, realizing that her cousins were staring at her, waiting for her to speak. She offered a huge smile. “I admit I hadn’t really planned to entertain strangers tonight, but you guys could have brought the current loves of your lives,” Christina told them.

“I have no love in my life,” Dan said with a feigned mourning note in his voice.

“I want no love in my life,” Mike said, and his tone was sharper. He’d been married once, and his divorce hadn’t been a pleasant one, though he had dated since.

“Well, Tony from next door is coming, and he’s bringing Ilona, the girl we met at the funeral. They live together,” Christina told them. “So come on. The menu’s barbecue and beer. I’ll get the plates out as soon as I get some of the boxes off the chairs so we can use the parlor.”

“I’ll help,” Ana said as they all walked deeper into the house. Suddenly she let out an exclamation as she pulled something out of a box. “Look, it’s a Ouija board.”

“I never throw anything away,” Christina admitted sheepishly.

“Why would you even consider throwing this away?” Ana demanded. Picking up the Ouija board, she walked over and sat in a wing chair and stared at it raptly. “Oh, my God, remember? We used to have so much fun with this thing.”

Christina found herself feeling strangely irritated, wishing she’d thought to stick the damn thing somewhere out of sight, or, that she’d gotten rid of it altogether.

She groaned aloud. “We had fun because we were kids who knew the answers we wanted to hear, so we pushed it around to get them,” she said.

“We’ve got to play with this sucker again,” Ana said, entranced, and obviously unaware that Christina was nowhere near as anxious as she was to dredge up past fun and games. “Don’t you remember? We had so much fun. Sometimes you’d wrap a towel around your head like a turban and call yourself Madame Zee, and we’d have a séance. It was so much fun. But this guy…” She patted the Ouija board affectionately. “We asked it so many questions. It was great. We have to play with it again.”

“Why? I know what I’m going to be when I grow up,” Christina said. “And we are all grown up, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Supposedly,” Mike threw in skeptically.

“Grown up—not dead,” Ana said with mock impatience. “Let’s ask it something.”

“I don’t want any answers to any questions—prophecies can be self-fulfilling,” Christina said.

“Maybe you don’t want any answers,” Dan said. “But I want to know if I’m going to have to be a fluffy all my life.”

“Fluffy?” Ana giggled. “Don’t you mean ‘fluffer’? And don’t you have to be a girl for that? Or maybe not, these days.”

“Cute, shorty, very cute,” Dan said dryly.

“A lot of the entertainers at the parks call playing a character being a ‘fluffy,’” Christina explained, unable to hide a smile. “Dan is in the running to play Zeus in a new show, but in the meantime…”

“In the meantime, I’m Raccoon Ralph,” Dan said.

“Raccoon Ralph?” Ana said, and burst into gales of laughter.

“If we were still kids, I’d be bopping you on the head right now,” Dan said.

“Thank God we’re not kids, then,” Ana said.

“Enough of that,” Mike said, suddenly serious. “You two need to be careful,” he said.

“We’re just teasing each other,” Ana told him, frowning.

Mike shook his head impatiently. “I wasn’t talking about you and Dan. I’m talking about you and Christie. I was watching the news earlier,” he said. “They were warning women to be careful. There’s been a murder.”

“A murder?” Christina asked.

“Are you talking about the woman they found along the highway?” Ana asked.

Mike nodded. “You must have heard about it, even down in Miami,” he said to Christina.

“I did. But it was just one woman, right?” Christina asked.

“Yeah, but it’s got a lot of people around here worried. The killer is a copycat of the Interstate Killer,” Mike told them.

“I saw it on the news earlier, too,” Ana said. “It sounded like they don’t know if they really got the right guy to begin with, right?”

“I don’t think anyone is admitting that yet,” Mike said.

“Can it be the same guy?” Christina asked. “I mean, I’m not an expert, but I always thought that a killer like that escalated until he was killed or caught and locked away. Would a serial killer take a break that long?” She felt vaguely uneasy. She knew that the so-called Interstate Killer had plagued the central part of the state a dozen years ago. She also knew that he had supposedly been killed.

And buried.

“Maybe he didn’t take a break,” Dan theorized aloud. “Maybe he was gone…traveling from state to state.”

“Possibly. They say that killers often keep on the move. Thank God for computers. They’ve made a big difference,” Mike said.

“Jed will know more about it,” Ana said confidently.

“That’s right. He wrote a book about the killings,” Dan said.

“Jed wrote a novel,” Ana said. “Based loosely on real events.”

Michael was quiet, frowning at Christina.