The plan is simple: kidnap the daughter of Senate candidate Richard McClaine, take the money and run. Nobody gets hurt, the kid goes home alive.
Twenty-two-year-old car thief Kelsey Money thinks it’s the worst idea Matt and his drug-fueled brother have ever come up with. But Matt’s the planner. He’s the one Kelsey has always depended on.
Then she discovers she only knew half the plan. By the time she finds out the rest, she’s been framed for murder, and six-year-old Holly McClaine won’t be going home alive.
Across town, Elizabeth McClaine has no idea what her daughter was wearing when she disappeared. When Holly was born with Down syndrome and a cleft palate, Elizabeth placed her only child in the care of a nanny while she fought post-natal depression.
But when Holly is kidnapped and Elizabeth discovers the detective leading the hunt has already failed one kidnapped child, Elizabeth knows she cannot fail hers.
Now both women have twenty-four hours to find Holly. Because in twenty-five, she’ll be dead.
Targeted Age Group: Adult
The Book Excerpt:
The Candidate’s Daughter
Day One—2:24 p.m.—Kelsey
Six years old. Even from here the kid looked small for her age.
Kelsey lowered the binoculars and squinted off down the street.
“Is that her?” Lionel asked and reached back. Kelsey handed him the binoculars while Matt shifted forward in his seat and rested both arms across the steering wheel, his attention on the child.
“That’s her,” he said.
They’d been sitting in this junker Camry for half an hour now, freezing their asses off while they waited for school to finish and the last remaining students to leave. November in Cleveland and no functioning heater, the car was an ice-box. The instant Kelsey saw the kid, it was like someone had flicked on a switch. Now all she could feel was heat flashing down her back and sweat prickling under the wig. She adjusted her jacket and loosened her collar, watching the woman and the child exit the Special Children’s Center and make their way to the street.
“Ready?” Lionel said.
Matt checked the street front and back. “Not yet. Wait for it …”
Kelsey lifted the binoculars again, leaning forward so she could get a clear view of the kid. Holly McClaine’s mousey brown hair was cut into a bob and secured back from her face with a headband; she wore a windbreaker two sizes too big over a checked pinafore dress, fawn-colored tights and plain brown shoes. Her left hand was on the strap of her Dora the Explorer backpack, her right one in the grip of a woman Kelsey recognized as her teacher, Audrey Patterson. While Holly stared straight ahead, a worried frown creased the teacher’s brow. She pulled the child’s hood up, then turned and shrugged her shoulders against the icy wind, searching the street for a car that was never going to come.
Matt checked his watch. “Okay,” he said. “Now! Go, go, go.”
Kelsey opened the left rear door, got out and headed down the street, drawing the collar of her jacket up over the dagger tattoo on her neck. “Hi,” she called, flipping back a strand of her long brown hair and smiling as she crossed and trotted towards the teacher and the kid.
Audrey Patterson gave her the brief smile, but otherwise ignored her and continued scanning the street, until Kelsey paused next to Holly, dropped to one knee, and said, “Hey, Holly, I’m taking you home, baby.”
The teacher swung on her, automatically gripping the child’s shoulders and pulling her in, saying, “Excuse me?”
Kelsey straightened, offered her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Amy, Lizzie’s sister. You must be Audrey. Lizzie told me all about you. Says you’re a terrific teacher.”
Audrey’s frown softened but the skepticism remained. She took the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you,” she said, although the snap visual she gave Kelsey’s jeans, Metallica tee-shirt and fringed suede jacket told her something entirely different.
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t have time to change. Airports, huh?” Their eyes met, locked. Right there Kelsey saw the distrust and her heart did a flip.
Audrey flashed another zero-degree smile. “Thank you for coming, but Holly’s car will be right along.” Then she turned her attention back to the empty street.
Kelsey followed the teacher’s gaze. “Oh, so Lizzie didn’t call?”
“Elizabeth? No. Was she supposed to?”
Kelsey gave her a lop-sided grin. “Jeez, I swear she’ll forget her damn head one of these days. She’s been so busy with all that campaign sh … stuff with Richard and all, and yeah …” She shrugged.
Another tight smile. “So I believe. And I think he’ll be a great state senator.”
“Yeah well, he’ll have to get voted in first. Way he’s going, that’ll never happen. Anyhow, everything back home’s gone all to hell. That’s why I’m here.” She smiled down at the kid. “Oh yeah, and Sienna. Y’know, like the nanny? Lizzie told me she’s gone to her mother’s. Yeah, so anyway, she told me to pick Holly up—Lizzie, that is, y’know.”
Holly looked up at Kelsey, open-mouthed and without a hint of expression. Her puffy eyes were red-rimmed and lightly crusted with the yellow flakes of pink eye. They were set in a round, flat face that bore the trademark scar of a cleft lip running from just under her nose to her upper lip like a jagged crack. Below that, her round pink tongue peeked from her open mouth. Apart from the scar, she looked like any other Down syndrome kid Kelsey had ever seen.
“I’m sorry but that’s out of the question,” Audrey told Kelsey, like she was speaking to an idiot. “School policy dictates that we secure confirmation from the parents before we release any child into the custody of anyone other than his or her authorized guardians.”
Kelsey stuck her hands on her hips and shifted her weight. “Oh, right.” It pissed her off when teachers and rich assholes talked down to her like this. “Well, I guess Lizzie should have told me that before I drove all the way across town,” she said, a little more sharply than she’d meant to.
Audrey stepped back and pulled Holly in a little closer. “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”
“Amy. Amy Pace. I just flew in yesterday from Idaho. Shit of a place,” she added and grinned. When nothing came back she directed a smile down at Holly, and said, “Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do but go home and wait.”
Audrey said nothing, just stared at her, both hands still firmly on the child.
“So, I guess I’ll have to see you back at your mom’s, huh?” she told Holly.
Audrey’s flinty glare never faltered, so Kelsey tipped her head, said, “Fine,” in a have it your way tone, then turned and started walking away.
This was the part where Audrey Patterson was supposed to call her back. According to Matt, she’d be relieved the sister had come to take the kid home so she could run along to the phony meeting he’d set up for her. That wasn’t happening. Kelsey crossed the street, shaking her head and wondering yet again why she’d let Matt and Lionel talk her into this dumbass plan. When she glanced back, Audrey was watching her, only now she had her cell phone to her ear and was talking on it.
“Shit.” Now Kelsey didn’t know what to do. Matt and Lionel would be watching her from the car and going nuts. She spun on her heel, and crossed the street again, trotting back towards Audrey Patterson and Holly.
“Y’know, if you phone the house,” she called as she approached again, “Sienna could tell you who I am. I mean, if that’s what you need. That’s all you have to do.” She shrugged; cool, casual.
Then remembered she’d just told her the nanny wasn’t there.
When the teacher turned back to her this time, the tilt of her head, the sharp, knowing little smile all told Kelsey one thing—Audrey Patterson knew something was going on, but she was the one in control here . “That won’t be necessary,” Audrey said as her eyes went straight to the uncovered tattoo. “I’m sure Holly’s car will be right along.” Then she angled the child around, and began shuffling her back up the path toward the school.
Kelsey turned, gave the street another once over, wondering what the hell to do next. By the time she came to a decision, a couple of cars had gone by and Audrey Patterson had steered Holly halfway back to the front door. Once they got inside it would be too late. So, she went after them.
Audrey had just got to the door when Kelsey threw her arm across, barring their way. “Give her to me,” she said quietly. “I’ll take her now.”
“Excuse me—” Audrey began, and tried to push Kelsey aside. Without even thinking, Kelsey gave her a shove that sent the teacher reeling backwards and crashing into a trash can beside the door. For the briefest moment, Kelsey hesitated and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” Her first instinct was to stop and check that she was okay. Instead, she grabbed Holly by the hand, scooped her up like a sack of potatoes and ran for the car. The backpack fell to the ground with a clatter of pens but Kelsey didn’t look back. All she could hear was Audrey Patterson screaming for her to stop.
Kelsey leaped out into the road with the kid in her arms but a car appeared from nowhere with a screech of brakes and a blast of its horn. She twirled away, looked right and left, then ran for the car. She ripped open the door and tossed the kid in as Matt started it up, yelling, “Get in!” Kelsey jumped in after Holly but just as she reached to close the door, a hand grabbed her arm, and there was Audrey Patterson, teeth bared, eyes wide; clinging on like her life depended on it. Kelsey jerked away, trying to break Audrey’s grip while Lionel leaned over and swatted her. Matt hit the gas, grinding through the gears, swearing and yelling, but Audrey Patterson held on even tighter.
Kelsey tried prying the woman’s hand off but she had a fist like a bear trap and her fingers wouldn’t budge. “Slow the fuck down,” Kelsey yelled to Matt, but he wasn’t listening. Audrey stumbled, almost fell, and Matt screamed, “Shut the fuckin’ door,” and swung the car left then right.
Still Audrey Patterson hung on. But now they were dragging her along, her feet pedaling against the speeding blacktop, trying to keep up.
At the corner Matt spun the wheel so hard Kelsey almost went out the door and Holly wound up in her lap. When Audrey Patterson finally lost her grip, Kelsey reached out, grabbed the swinging door and slammed it. Matt hit the gas again, but almost at once they heard a bumping on the side of the car.
Matt yelled, “Open the door!” His eyes were riveted to the side mirror. “She’s caught in the fuckin’ door. Open the door.”
Kelsey threw open the door, then immediately slammed it again. She turned just in time to see Audrey Patterson tumbling over and over on the blacktop as they sped away.
“Mitha Pannathon,” said Holly. She looked like she’d taken the whole experience like a routine trip to the mall.
Kelsey’s heart was pounding, her hands shaking. She ripped off the wig and raked her nails through her short-cropped blond curls. “Huh? Oh, Mrs. Patterson, yeah, sure.” Through the rear window she could see Audrey Patterson lying in a heap on the roadway while people rushed toward her. “Yeah, she’s fine,” she told Holly. “She’s waving goodbye.”
“Holy shit,” said Lionel. “Holy fuckin’ shit.”
Matt’s eyes were switching from the road to the rear view mirror. “Everybody just stay calm. Just stay …”
Behind them the wail of a siren split the air.
“Oh Jesus! Hang on tight,” said Matt. He swung hard right at the next street, then took a left, smashing the stick-shift through the gears. “This piece of shit …”
Kelsey leaned forward, gripping the front seats. “Go down the Theatre route. Two blocks in there’s a shortcut to the parking building.”
“I know, I know,” said Matt. He twisted the wheel and the tires screeched as they flew around the next corner then spun into the next. The left wheels mounted the curb and they flew down between stopped cars and terrified pedestrians but the cop did the same. People jumped out of the way and shouted abuse after them. Kelsey grabbed the armrest with one hand and Holly with the other. When she looked down, the kid smiled up at her.
Suddenly Matt swerved and they all rode air as the car flew over the first incline and crashed down on the underground ramp. Tires squealed as they twisted and turned deeper and deeper into the parking garage. The cop drove straight past but in a matter of seconds he backed up and Kelsey knew he’d soon be behind them again.
But now there were two sirens.
They hit the fourth level down just as a car pulled out and cut the cop off. On the fifth level Matt slammed on the brakes and twisted the wheel, skidding sideways to pull into a slot. Kelsey grabbed Holly, hugging her close as they all leaped out. Matt fumbled in his pocket for a key, unlocked a blue Ford SUV and they jumped in. Matt fired up the engine while Lionel twisted in his seat, searching for the cop. Kelsey buckled Holly up and turned her attention to the rear window.
“All clear,” said Lionel, so Matt slammed the truck into reverse, swung it around and threw it into first. They shot forward to the end of the row, and stopped. Then, calmly, quietly, he drove out of the building while three cop cars went screaming past. “Everybody okay?”
“I think I’m gonna throw up,” said Kelsey.
Day One: 3:09 p.m.
The SUV turned into the driveway and the instant it came to a halt, three doors flew open. Kelsey waited for Holly to scoot across the seat towards her, and lifted her out while Matt waited with the blanket. He tossed it over the child in Kelsey’s arms, and guided them to the house. Lionel opened the front door, checking the street for prying eyes, and slipped in behind them, shutting the door and locking it.
“Wah-hoo!” Lionel yelled. “Blue skies, crystal clear waters, here we come.” He and Matt bumped fists while Kelsey pulled the blanket off Holly and brushed her hair back from her face.
“You okay?” Kelsey asked her.
“Holy shit,” said Lionel, staring down at the girl for the first time. “Holy shit, you see this?” he asked Matt and pointed. “She looks like a gopher.”
“Shut up, Lionel,” Kelsey said, wheeling Holly around and steering her toward the stairs.
Behind them he was laughing and saying, “Oh man, she’s like one of those Goofy Gophers from the cartoon show—we got us a Goofy Gopher,” he said, and laughed so hard he doubled over with his hands on his knees.
Even from the bedroom upstairs, Kelsey could hear Lionel braying like the jackass he was.
“Naff,” said Holly. “Naff an’ naff.”
Kelsey opened the Walmart shopping bag and searched through the children’s clothes they’d bought the day before. They all looked too big. “Huh?”
“Nine-a naff? Oh! Oh yeah, Lionel’s laughing. Whole street can hear Lionel laugh. He’s an idiot. Here, try this on.” She took out a crumpled tracksuit and shook it out.
“No naff ‘a me,” Holly said, shaking a little finger. The words came out so fiercely, they made Kelsey look up.
“Hey, nobody’s laughing at you. Ignore Lionel. He’s an asshole.”
Kelsey gave her a half grin. “Okay, so maybe not that word. Maybe we’ll stick with ‘jackass’.”
“Yeah, a nack-an. And we’ll keep that between you and me. Here, take your dress off. We don’t want your expensive clothes getting all mussed up, do we?” She slipped the dress up over the child’s head and checked the label. “Target. Oh, wow. So, no expense spared, huh? Oh,” she said and stopped short when she saw the wet patch on the child’s leggings. “I see you had a little accident, too, huh? Take off your undershirt and panties and I’ll get ‘em changed.” She peeled Holly’s soiled clothing off, noting the yellow coloration of faded bruising across her buttocks. “What happened there? Huh? Did you fall down?”