Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard.
It was midnight when Dimitra found her husband ensconced in the small room across from Corey’s that he liked to call his study. He had painted it a hunter green and hung burgundy curtains that were usually tied back to reveal the backyard full of the small gardens she lovingly tended. Half of the room was taken over by a mahogany desk and swivel chair. Across from the desk was a tall bookcase packed with an assortment of books, from fiction to non-fiction and a few dictionaries. Peeking in, she could see the desk lamp was on as Skyler scanned page after page from a thick file.
Sighing quietly, Dimitra gently pushed the door open enough for her to slip in. Her feet whispered over the dark green carpet and she padded quietly over to stand at his shoulder. A glance out the window told her there were a few tree branches waving around in the chilly winter gusts and she would have to check in the morning to see if stray tree debris had ruined her plants.
“Honey, it’s midnight,” she said softly, pulling the sash of her bathrobe tighter around her waist.
Skyler looked up at her, his eyes tired and a little glassy. He gave her a small smile before leaning back and stretching. He ran his hands through his freshly trimmed hair before resting his hands on top of his head, fingers laced together. His eyes strayed back to the file overflowing with paper and pictures. Dimitra’s eyes fell with his.
“Do you really have to look at these now?” she asked, reaching forward to pick up a picture of Annie Fallon’s body lying exposed in her own bed. “They’re so gruesome.”
Gently, Skyler pried the picture from his wife’s hands and put it back on the table.
“I can’t help but think I’m missing something.”
A giggle drifted over to them from Corey’s bedroom. Both of them turned to look over at the office door, but no one appeared.
“Do you have to do this while Terese is sleeping over?” Dimitra asked.
“I can’t get it out of my head, Dimitra. You know I can’t sleep when something gets stuck there.”
Dimitra sighed and plopped herself down on her husband’s lap. There was a perfectly good mahogany chair across the desk, but it didn’t have a cushion and she wanted to be comfortable. Her husband’s arms wrapped around her waist.
“Talk to me,” Dimitra gently demanded.
“I don’t know too much,” he admitted, “and that’s what’s driving me crazy. I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t know why we can’t find a trace of anything. We don’t even have a shred of DNA. Nothing, Dimitra. It’s driving us all crazy. We have six identical murders. There’s Corey’s biological parents and her first adopted father, one of her school teachers, and two classmates. I don’t know what they could have in common, but they were all killed the same way. It looks like they all had claw marks on them, claw marks that look identical down to the last jag.”
Dimitra shivered in his arms and leaned her head on his shoulder. “This is far too gruesome to look at tonight, Sky. Please come to bed. We’re supposed to take the girls to their skiing lesson early in the morning.”
Skyler looked down at the papers and pictures. “Yeah. I know. Just give me a little longer and then I’ll come to bed, okay?”
“Okay. But if you’re not in bed in the next hour, I will come back and drag you to bed, do you hear me?”
He gave her a tired smile. “I promise. Now go get your rest.”
“Speak for yourself,” Dimitra muttered as he gave her a kiss on her cheek.
Dimitra slid from his lap and walked towards the door. She placed her hand on the door knob before turning back. Skyler was already back to his file, skimming through two pages at the same time. He didn’t even notice when she slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her.
Closing her eyes for a second, she leaned against the closed door and took a deep breath. She wanted to know who had killed all those people as much as Sky did, but she couldn’t help but think that if they hadn’t been killed, she and Sky wouldn’t be parents right now.
She opened her eyes and looked across the hall at Corey’s closed door. She loved the girl to pieces and just wanted to enjoy her, not try to piece together the murders of six people who had known her. Trust Skyler to be obsessed with something like that.
Sighing, Dimitra pushed herself from the door and went across the hall. Knocking, she opened the door and found herself peering into a brightly lit room where the two girls were pretending to have a tea party. They had a couple of teddy bears sitting at the little round table and were occupying the other two chairs. They all wore big floppy hats and had a tea set laid out. Terese and Corey were holding up their tea cups, pinkies extended. Both girls turned to look at Dimitra as she stepped into the room.
Terese giggled and her floppy hat fell forward to cover her eyes. Corey put down her cup and giggled, putting a hand to her mouth.
“You look silly, Terese,” Corey said. All they could see was the blond girl’s broad grin. “It’s just my mom.”
“Shouldn’t you two be in bed?” Dimitra asked. “You have an early morning tomorrow.”
Terese pulled the hat off of her head, blond strands flying around her face. “We know. We’re taking skiing lessons. I’m so excited.”
“Me, too,” Corey said. “Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll go to bed soon.”
“Make sure you do, okay? I’m waking you two up at eight sharp. Got it?”
“Yes, Mrs. Adams,” Terese said seriously. Corey nodded.
Dimitra gave them a pointed look before withdrawing from the room. She could hear the two girls giggling as she closed the door and shook her head. Corey was getting to be as bad as Skyler. Giving the office door one last look, she headed down the hall to go back to bed.
Skyler gathered the pictures together and arranged them in chronological order. Annie and Don Fallon, separately and together. Sandra Connors. Patricia Reddy. Alice Allen. Andrew Marks. Three of them had been Corey’s parents and three had been associated with her at school. Sandra and Patricia had been Corey’s classmates for just a couple of days and Alice Allen had been her teacher for one. The two girls hadn’t even known Corey, at least according to their parents and all of Mrs. Allen’s students had claimed she had been far from kind. Skyler knew Corey knew something, but she still wouldn’t speak up. Every time the subject came up, she always clammed up.
“What do you know, Corey?” he whispered to himself. “What am I missing that you know?”
He couldn’t even get her to confirm that she had known Sandra and Patricia. He had a hunch that if he knew more about Corey’s relationships with all the victims, he would be able to solve this case and put the murderer behind bars. Then Corey would be safe forever.
Skyler put the pictures aside. They weren’t going to tell him anything more tonight. Dimitra was right; they were gruesome to look at. The flesh looked like it had been shredded and blood had pooled under the bodies. The necks of the two girls looked like they had been snapped. Their faces were covered in claw marks. None of the victims seemed to have known they were being killed; they all looked like they had been sleeping peacefully while someone or something was murdering them.
He picked up the reports. Here was all the information he had gathered. Annie Fallon had adored her daughter, but seemed a little distant. Don Fallon had been refusing to accept Corey was his daughter, according to Mrs. Appleton. The girls had been popular in school. Alice Allen was a hard teacher, but her students were usually well disciplined and were very intelligent third graders. Though, come to think of it, he recalled sensing some fear from some of the second and third grade students when her name was brought up. Andrew Marks had seemed like a loving father, but he had become violent and an alcoholic after losing his job.
So much information, but no leads. It was starting to drive him crazy.
He looked at his watch. Almost an hour had passed. He sighed and packed up the file before putting it away. He stood and turned off the desk lamp, letting the moonlight stream in through the open window. Snow was falling outside, perfect for tomorrow’s skiing lesson. Troubled, but exhausted, he walked out of his office. Stopping to press his ear to Corey’s door, he didn’t hear anything. There were no lights shining from under the door.
Quietly, Skyler turned the knob and pushed the door open. He peeked in. Corey was curled up on her bed, hugging her teddy bear close. Terese was snuggled up in a sleeping bag next to Corey’s bed. Both girls were breathing evenly and looked to be in deep sleep. Smiling, he closed the door and headed for his own bed. The hour was almost over and he didn’t want Dimitra to have to rouse herself again.