Son of the Enemy is a departure from the political novel, even though it takes place in the D.C. suburbs. This is my darkest story so far. My hero is a psychologist-turned-FBI agent whose father was imprisoned twenty-three years ago for murdering his lover. He gets an anonymous tip that his father’s conviction was a setup, and that the victim’s daughter may be able to identify the killer—she was six years old and hiding under the bed peeking at her Christmas presents when her mother was stabbed to death. So he tracks down the daughter, who runs a small school, and poses as a writer to get close to her. He quickly discovers she’s being stalked, and is drawn in to protecting her. She’s also involved with the school benefactor, a man with connections to organized crime. Both the hero and heroine were deeply traumatized by what happened twenty-three years earlier, and much of their personal conflict arises from that damage to their psyches.
Here’s an excerpt:
John Emerson Daly knocked on the door to the office marked Head of School. No answer. He wiped sweaty palms on his corduroy jacket, took a deep breath and let it out. The door was cracked a few inches, so he pushed it open and peered inside.
In a small sitting area beyond the office proper, a woman in a calf-length denim skirt and white sweater sat hunched over an ottoman, massaging her temples, long brown hair bound in a loose ponytail. His heart took off at a gallop.
Hannah Duncan. In the flesh.
He allowed himself a brief fantasy of walking over to that chair and telling her the truth.
Hi, my father’s in prison for killing your mother. And I need you to help me get him out.
Yeah. Imagine that.
An older, gray-haired woman came around the corner of the L-shaped room dragging a small cleaning cart, and bent to the wastebasket. From his position in the hall, John could just make out the conversation between the women.
“Did you throw away more of these flowers, Ms. Duncan?” the older woman asked, at the same time lifting the bouquet of yellow roses out of the trash and sticking them in a glass vase on the oak desk. John shifted back so she wouldn’t spot him.
“Just leave them, Edna,” Hannah said, not raising her head.
“But they’re too pretty to waste.”
“Then take them home with you. Please.”
Edna shook her head in disgust, but stuck the bouquet in her cart and turned toward the door. John quickly lifted his hand to knock again, and Edna speared him with light blue eyes made huge by the horn-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Behind her, Hannah said, “Who is it?”
Edna pulled the door all the way open and pushed by him with a mumbled “’Scuse me.” John eased around her and entered the office—and went still at the sight of the slim woman standing before him. Hannah Duncan at twenty-nine was the spitting image of her mother, Sharon, at the same age. The age she was when John’s father murdered her.
He gazed, fascinated, at the high cheekbones, the lush mouth, the golden- brown eyes she’d inherited from her mother—the woman his father had loved more than his own family. The woman he’d loved so much that he killed her when she tried to break it off.
Or so the jury said.
Hannah moved toward him and extended her hand, setting the silver bangles at her wrist jingling. Her grip was firm, but her fingers were like ice. He had held a recent newspaper photo of Hannah side by side with yellowed newspaper photos of her mother, and the resemblance between the women had disturbed him. But now, in the presence of this living, breathing woman, her likeness to his father’s lover took his breath away.
“Are you Mr. Winter?” she asked. “I thought my assistant had changed our appointment.”
He hoped his smile covered his agitation. “No, I’m John Emerson. You weren’t expecting me until next week, but I got into the area early and thought I’d stop in.”
For a moment she stood there, frowning in puzzlement, then raised her eyebrows. “Emerson. Oh yes, the author. You’re writing the book about Arthur and the school.”
She glanced at her watch. “I’d love to chat with you, but unfortunately I can’t. I have a previous engagement and I need to get home. I’m sorry.”
The previous engagement was probably a date with Thornton Bradshaw III. The multimillionaire businessman had a kid at the Grange School, and was bankrolling the new gym and science center. He also had more mob associates than zeros in his bank account.
“No problem,” John said. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
“Oh, that’s not necessary. I live on campus.”
“Then I’ll walk you home.”
For several beats she said nothing, just studied him, and John had the strangest feeling she was peering straight into his black, lying soul. “Well,” she said at last, “if Arthur thinks you’re okay, I guess I can assume you’re not the Big Bad Wolf.”
He chuckled. “I promise not to eat you up.” Just deceive you and use you and mess with your head.
“Okay, then.” She went back to the ottoman and picked up a small white card with the tips of her fingers, carefully, as though it might burn her, and slipped it into her skirt pocket.
She crossed the room, moving gracefully, her back straight as a dancer’s. His gaze wandered over her slim, curvaceous body—another gift from her mother. She grabbed a forest-green down vest off the back of her chair, slid her arms into it, then lifted a large leather purse and two canvas bags stuffed with books and files onto her desk.
She gave him a half smile, her expression distant. “Call me an optimist.”
He followed her down the steps of the colonial mansion that housed the administrative offices of the Grange School. It was very dark in rural Loudoun County, Virginia, and the night was damp and cold. He could smell the snow that was due to fall overnight, just as he had the night the police came for his father. Even after twenty-three years, he still struggled with the sense of impending doom evoked by a scent on the wind. He took a deep, slow breath. Then another. But, like a song that’s stuck in your head, the memory insisted on playing.
He’s running down the street next to the police car, clinging to the door handle with one hand and banging on the window with the other, the tears making everything blurry. They’re taking his father away and he can’t stand it. This can’t be happening to him. The car stops at the corner, and the cop rolls down the window. John sticks his arm inside and tries to touch his father’s hand, but there’s something in the way. A cage. He bangs on it. The cop talks to him softly, and John shoves at him with the back of his arm.
“Let him go!” he shrieks. “Let him go!”
The police car turns the corner quickly and picks up speed until John can’t keep up any longer. He falls onto his knees in the street, howling his rage and grief. His father is gone, and the world is all wrong. All wrong.
Hannah reached the bottom of the steps, and he swiped at his cheeks quickly, unsure whether his tears were real or imagined.
She turned to him. “I can take those totes. I carry them every night, all by myself.”
“Call me old-fashioned. I promise to give them back at your door.”
“Suit yourself,” she said, but he caught a glimmer of irritation in those light- brown eyes.
She headed across the lawn to the gravel parking lot, her pace brisk. Long strands of wavy hair had escaped from her ponytail and blew across her face, hiding her expression. He was picking up some kind of strange vibe from her, but he couldn’t really identify it. Maybe she was still distracted by whatever she’d been thinking about when he walked into her office. Or maybe he was being too damn pushy.
Yeah, he was pushing. This woman didn’t know him from Adam. But his leave from the bureau was due to run out in less than a month, and he didn’t have time to pussyfoot around.
“So, what brought you to the Grange School originally?” he asked, to break the silence. “Arthur told me you were a student here once upon a time.”
“My father thought boarding school would be good for me.”
“What about your mother?”
Hannah lowered her head. “She died when I was very young.”
“Had she been sick for a long time or was it sudden?” As if he didn’t know.
As if he didn’t think about Sharon Duncan every day, rotting in the dark Massachusetts soil.
“I’m sorry. Accident?”
Little did she know, they had lost their parents on the very same day.
The gravel ended at the edge of a soccer field soggy with wet leaves. After a few steps on the spongy ground, she said, “I won’t be able to spend much time with you. To talk about the book.”
The book. Right. He was as much an author as he was an astronaut, or a cowboy .
“I understand how busy you are,” he said. “And I’ll only bother you in your free time.”
She chuckled. “Free time? What’s that?” Even in the dark, her wry smile made her beautiful face exquisite.
He swallowed. “We can talk over lunch.”
“I work through lunch.”
“Okay, dinner,” he said. “I would enjoy getting to know you over dinner.”
She hesitated. “I’m not usually available for dinner.”
“I make a great dessert.” In and out of bed, he was tempted to say.
A gust of wind blew Hannah’s hair into a tangle around her face, and she raised a hand to push it back. At the same time she shifted her path slightly, putting more space between them. “The book isn’t about me, John. It’s about Arthur and the Grange School.”
John closed the gap as though he didn’t realize what she was trying to do. “True, but Arthur doesn’t run the school anymore. You do. Readers will want to know who you are.”
“The readers. Uh-huh.”
After a few steps she suddenly stopped walking, and John fully expected her to turn around and tell him to back off. For a guy who’d spent the last thirty-five years wrapping women around his little finger, this one was making him break a sweat.
For a long time she stared across the field, silent. When she spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper. “Did you see that?”
“What?” He automatically moved closer to her and shifted the totes to one hand, in case he had to reach across his chest to where his SIG pistol was holstered. He scanned the field and surrounding trees and saw nothing suspicious, but there was a prickling under his skin he’d been trained not to ignore. Even though he was on leave, FBI agents were expected to carry a firearm, but he sure as hell wouldn’t reveal it unless he was certain the threat was real.
Hannah hadn’t moved. He listened, but the only sound was the wind rustling the bare branches. This close to her, he caught the scent of lilacs and felt something stir inside him. Had Sharon Duncan smelled of lilacs?
“It was probably nothing,” she said after several moments. She swallowed hard, then started walking. Her pace was slower now, as though she wasn’t quite so eager to get home anymore.
“What did you see?” he asked, continuing to scan as they walked.
“I’m not sure. Probably a deer.”
They were close to the edge of the field, and he could see the dim glow of a porch light through a thick stand of trees. “Is that your house, through there?”
“I’ll check around outside. If there is someone—”
“I’m sure it was an animal,” she said. “I can take those bags now.”
“I’d rather walk you right to your door. You know, just in case.”
“That’s really not necessary. I’m a big girl.”
Sure, she was. A big girl who had watched her mother get stabbed to death when she was six.
Who was holding the knife, Hannah? What did you see?
“Well, then, I’ll stand right here and wait until I hear a door slam.” He wasn’t going anywhere until she was inside and had turned on some lights. Maybe after that he’d poke around a bit, to make sure all was well.
“If it makes you feel better,” she said. “But it really isn’t necessary.”
“See you Monday, then.”
She grabbed the totes from him, murmured good night and disappeared into the trees.