Today's Reading

In the waiting room, Grace's eyes were nearly shut. Brody glanced at the manila envelope in my arms but didn't say anything other than goodbye to Caleb and the dog. He went ahead of me, taking our sleeping zombie llama back out into the night.

I gave Caleb a pat on the shoulder. "Are you headed home?"

He nodded, turned away toward his office. "In a few minutes. I've got to return Cricket and put a few files away."

"Good night then, Caleb."

"I'll see you around, kid."

Kid. I hadn't been called kid in a long time.

"It's Detective now, Caleb," I called after him.

He stopped, turned, and saluted. "Yeah, right. I'll see you around, Detective. And happy Halloween. Watch out for the monsters."

The sky was still violet, though the moon had risen and was now high above us. We walked north, back to the car under the pale yellow orb, the glow of moonlight complementing the evenly spaced puddles of streetlight. As we reached the side road we'd parked on, a pack of teenagers in skeleton costumes rushed past us, pummeling one another with sacks of candy. They turned the corner, the sound of their voices and crazed laughter drifting away.

"Kids," Brody whispered as he strapped Grace into her car seat. "That'll be our baby in just a few short years. Heaven help us."

"I don't even want to think about it."

In the driver's seat, Brody moved away from the curb carefully, mindful of others still running about, and headed west. We'd gotten half a mile or so away when a terrible noise shattered the night. For a moment, I thought the world itself was ending; the noise had sounded as though somewhere a great rock had been torn asunder. Brody pulled over. We stared at each other, the color draining from our faces. He said, "That was an explosion. A house maybe, or a car. Could be a gas leak."

"You go." My hand was already on the door. "Take Grace home. I'll call as soon as I know anything. There could be people hurt, injuries. I might be able to help."

Brody nodded, knowing it would be a waste of time to argue. His eyes pleaded with mine. "Be careful, Gemma. Listen, hear that? Sirens. The fire department is already on their way. They've got the gear, the training. Don't go inside any structures, even if you think there's someone trapped or hurt. You'll put yourself and the fire personnel at risk."

I nodded. "I love you."

I was out of the car and jogging back toward Main Street by the time the first fire engine sped past me, its lights and sirens piercing the darkness. I watched as it drove by the bulk of the shops and kept going, toward the south end of the street.

Toward Caleb Montgomery's law offices.

I sprinted, cursing the heavy layers I'd worn to keep out the evening's chill. It was a Monday, and with school the next day, many of the families had already called it a night. But a fair number of older teens and adults still roamed the town, the adults taking advantage of the holiday to tuck into a few more drinks at the bars and the teens taking advantage of a one-night-only license to claim Cedar Valley as their own.

Now, though, everyone I passed had stopped, their faces wearing equal masks of horror and confusion, their heads cocked in anticipation of further explosions.

I slowed down as I reached the end of Main Street, then stopped completely, in total disbelief at what I was seeing. Caleb Montgomery's white Mercedes no longer existed. In its place was an inferno of fire and smoke. And all around it, a beehive of activity had commenced; the fire personnel raced to get water on the flames and a set of paramedics stared open-mouthed at the site of the blast.

And Caleb himself?

I nearly retched as the realization hit me that his was likely the body in the driver's seat. I looked away though I knew the images-charred skin, a formless shape more mass than human—would stay with me forever.

Flames continued to dance at the edge of my vision and I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes, willing this to be some kind of terrible, sick practical joke. A gruesome Halloween trick concocted by a madman.

It was an empty wish, of course. This was real, as real as the heat of the fire and the smell of the smoke, the smell of other . . . things burning.

This excerpt ends on page 13 the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Death in Avignon by Serena Kent.

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