Authors: Janice Kay Johnson
On an ordinary day, in an ordinary
neighborhood, a knock on the door of an ordinary house leads to an
Detective Connor McLean is the man who came to call, carrying with him a
child's accusation. Connor's visit ended Mariah Stavig's marriage and left her
a struggling single mother. Three years later, the word of another child brings
Connor back into Mariah's life.
Connor knows his investigations can ruin as much as they fix, but he has no
choice. He has sworn to speak for the innocent and seek justice for the
victims. And now, to do his job, he has to have Mariah's help—no matter how
much she hates him.
ariah Stavig had no
reason to fear the unexpected knock on the door. Her husband
and daughter were safely at home; she'd hung up the telephone from speaking to
her mother not five minutes before. She felt only mild surprise and curiosity
about who might be stopping by at seven-thirty in the evening.
Strangers, she discovered, had come calling in the form of a
very large man in a dark suit and a pleasant-faced older woman, neither of whom
she knew. Which were they selling, vacuum cleaners or religion?
"May I help you?" she asked.
"Are you Mariah Stavig?"
Puzzlement replaced her initial annoyance at the intrusion.
"Yes, I am."
The man flipped open a leather case to show a police badge.
"I'm Detective Connor McLean from the Port Dare PD."
The woman displayed identification. "Gail Cooper from
Child Protective Services. May we speak with you and your husband? Is he
Beginning to feel wary, Mariah said, "Yes, he's
watching the Mariners."
Neither asked about the score, even though the game was
critical to the Seattle Mariners making it to the World Series and most people
were at least mildly interested.
"What is it?" Mariah asked. "Is something
"It might be best if we spoke to you and your husband
together," the woman said.
"Well, then…" Apprehension raised a lump in her
throat as she backed up. "Come in."
They followed her into the living room. Simon, a man with
dark hair and the broad cheekbones of his Slavic heritage, tore his gaze from
the TV and stood politely. Three-year-old Zofie, in the midst of tumbled
plastic blocks and miniature people spread over the carpet, paused with a red
block in one hand and stared at the visitors.
Mariah swallowed but failed to dispel the lump. "Simon,
this is Detective McLean from the Port Dare police and Ms., um…"
"Cooper," the woman said pleasantly. "Gail
Cooper. I'm from Child Protective Services."
His expression didn't change, but Mariah felt her husband's
immediate tension. She supposed she was feeling it herself. It was so strange,
having a police officer and a social worker drop by without calling, and at
this time of the day.
"What do you want with us?" he asked. "Is
this about someone we know?"
"In a way." Ms. Cooper smiled at Zofie, who was
alarmed enough to scramble to her feet and race to clutch her mother's leg.
"It might be best if we could talk without your daughter hearing."
Real fear gripped Mariah now. Not questioning the
suggestion, she boosted Zofie into her arms. "Honey, I need you to play in
your room for a minute, while Mommy and Daddy talk to these people." She
started down the hall, as though her request was matter-of-fact, keeping her
voice soft. "Okay?"
Zofie popped her thumb into her mouth and stared over
Mariah's shoulder at the strangers until her mother turned into the toddler's
Mariah set her on the floor beside her small table and chair.
"I loved the drawing you made today. Can you draw me a new picture?"
Zofie hesitated, then sat down. Around her thumb, she
"I'll leave the door open so you can call if you need
Thumb out of her mouth, the three-year-old was already
reaching into her crayon box. "Okay," she said again, obligingly.
Thank heavens, she was almost always good-natured and compliant.
Simon and the two visitors stood exactly where they'd been
when she'd left them, her husband stiff and still expressionless. He had turned
off the baseball game.
"All right. What's this about?" he asked, voice
harsh, the moment he saw her.
Mariah gave him a reproving look. "Please. Sit down.
Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
The man looked at her, his light gray eyes somber. "No coffee.
The two sat at either end of the sofa. Mariah chose the
chair facing them. Simon planted himself behind her, his hands gripping the
winged back of the chair.
The police officer spoke. "A child who plays with your daughter
has been sexually molested."
Mariah pressed a hand to her mouth. "Who?" she
Zofie's preschool classmate was an animated little girl with
wild blond curls, bright blue eyes and enough energy and grace to make her
"most likely to become a cheerleader," as her parents joked. She and
Zofie weren't best friends, but these past few months they'd played at each
other's homes a couple of times.
"Oh, no," Mariah breathed. "But … how? She
wasn't kidnapped, was she?"
"No, her molester was apparently an acquaintance."
Ms. Cooper looked straight at Simon. "I'm afraid she's named you, Mr.
The chair jerked as Simon's grip tightened. Mariah couldn't
"This is insane! I hardly know who this kid is, and
you're claiming she pointed her finger at me?"
"I'm afraid she did," the police officer said
stolidly. "We're obligated to follow—"
"You dare to come here, into my home, and accuse me on
the word of a three-year-old?"
"At this point, nobody is accusing you," the social
worker soothed. "We simply need to ask you some questions, and inform you
that we will be conducting an investigation."
"An investigation!" He shoved violently at the
chair, moving it several inches despite the fact his wife sat in it. Pacing, he
snapped, "How can you
something like that? It's ludicrous that
you're here at all. The kid can't even talk! I can't understand a word she
says." He stopped to glare at them with narrowed, glittering dark eyes.
"Tell me—can you?"
The police officer's jaw muscles knotted. "Yes,"
he said, voice very level. "Even in a terrified whisper, 'Zofie's daddy,'
was clear as a bell."
Mariah's head swam. She felt distant, as if she looked down
on a scene she didn't fully understand and had no part in.
Lily. Pretty, comical Lily, touched … sexually? The idea
defied imagination. How could anybody do something so horrific to a child so
And … Simon. They were saying
done it. Mariah's husband. The very idea was ridiculous! Mariah couldn't
believe this was happening. Had Lily ever even met Simon, except at preschool
events like the Halloween party, where too many people were around for
something like this to happen?
She'd missed a couple of exchanges.
Simon was shouting, "Maybe you should be looking at
Did you ever think of that?"
Mariah stared at him in shock. He and Tom Thalberg had
talked about the Mariners in front of the house just recently. Tom was a nice
Seemed to be a nice man. These people wouldn't be here if
Lily hadn't been molested.
had done this unspeakable thing.
She heard her own voice. "Was she raped?"
The police officer's cold stare for her husband turned to
something gentler when he looked at her. She read sympathy in his eyes. For
her, which scared her even more.
"No. We can be grateful, because she would have been
injured badly if an adult male had actually penetrated her vaginally. From the
standpoint of the investigation, however, the ability to gather DNA would have
"Oh." Penetration… No. She would not imagine
Zofie, instead. No. "Then … then what?" she asked, just audibly.
He told her about oral sex and objects pushed into Lily,
things Mariah wished she'd never heard. She glanced at Simon, expecting him to
look as shocked, but all he did was stand across the living room from the
tableau the rest of them made, his nostrils flared, fury written across his
"My husband would never do anything like that,"
Mariah said stoutly. "We have a daughter. You saw her. Zofie is fine.
Surely a man who would molest another child would do the same thing to his own
"Yes." Detective McLean's voice was very soft, the
gaze he kept on her husband very hard. "Unfortunately that's usually
They started talking about how she needed to take Zofie to
the hospital to be checked, and that for her safety, Simon should move out of
the house and not be alone with her while the investigation proceeded.