printed copy


Kevin O'Brien

ISBN 9780786021376
Publish Date 4/26/2011
Format Paperback
Categories Thriller/Suspense, Pinnacle
List Price: $7.99

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The houses in Willow Tree Court are sleek and modern—the kind designed to harbor happy families and laughing children. No one would guess the secrets that lurk beyond the neat lawns and beautiful facades.


Molly Dennehy is trying to fit in to her new surroundings, though her neighbors are clearly loyal to her husband’s ex-wife. But that’s the least of Molly’s worries. Her stepson’s school has been rocked by a brutal slaying, and a psychopath known as the Cul-de-Sac Killer is murdering families in Seattle homes. Homes just like Molly’s.


With each passing day, Molly grows more convinced that someone is watching her family, someone consumed with rage and vengeance. On this quiet road, a nightmare has been unleashed, and the trail of terror will lead right to her door...

Praise for the Novels of Kevin O’Brien

“Deftly woven plot twists…the pace of the novel is strong and the story intriguing.” –Publishers Weekly on Vicious

“Scary! Read this page turner with the lights on!” --Lisa Jackson on Watch Them Die


Sitting at the wheel of his family station wagon, Ray Cor- son watched the gas gauge needle hover at empty. The red warning light flashed on, and he felt his stomach tighten.

He’d been driving for the last hour, making several loops around Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. Part of his route wound through the Arboretum along the edge of Lake Washington. But on this rainy April night, Ray couldn’t see the water beyond all the shadowy trees. It was just murky blackness.

At a stoplight, he caught his reflection in the rearview mirror. People often mistook him for someone in his early thirties. At forty-two, Ray loved hearing that. His wavy brown hair hadn’t yet turned gray. It helped that he stayed in shape running laps around the high school track every weeknight; or perhaps just being around all those teenagers kept him thinking young.

But Ray hadn’t been to the school in months. He couldn’t go back there.

That probably explained why the reflection in the rearview mirror was of someone who looked old, haggard—and frightened.

With a sigh, Ray leaned back and cracked the window a bit. His three-year-old son had stepped on a half-full juice box in the backseat over a week ago, and the car still had the sickeningly sweet smell of Hawaiian Punch gone bad.

The light changed, and he drove on. The fresh air revitalized him, and he took a few deep, calming breaths. He was about to drive past the Arboretum’s parking area again. The two light posts didn’t quite illuminate the entire lot, which was about the size of a basketball court. Beyond it lay the woods and the lake. The lot was empty right now. No one in their right mind would be at the Arboretum on such a cold, crummy, wet night.

Still, Ray kept his eyes peeled for a parked car—or maybe the silhouette of a man at the edge of that lot.

He suddenly realized his car was veering off the road. Tires squeaked against the curb and gravel ricocheted against the station wagon’s chassis. Startled, Ray twisted the wheel to one side and swerved back into his lane.

His heart was racing. “Chill out, for chrissakes,” he muttered to himself. He’d thought by now he would be at peace with what was about to happen. But he was still scared.

Ray figured he was good for one more loop around the neighborhood before the station wagon would start to fail on him. He glanced in the rearview mirror at the parking lot again. Then he checked the clock on the dashboard: 12:49 A.M.

He needed to be back there eleven minutes from now.

It would be the end of so many of his problems—including the whole mess at James Monroe High School, where he’d been a guidance counselor. The tension and turmoil with Jenna would be in the past. Jenna and the kids would be covered financially. And maybe his runaway sixteen-yearold daughter would even come home once everything was over and done with.

Ray lowered the window farther and felt the cool rain on his face. He smelled the night air and gazed at the trees swaying along the roadside. All of his senses were suddenly heightened as he took his last loop around the area. Every thing seemed so beautiful, each moment so precious. He started to cry; he couldn’t help it.

Just as he’d figured, the station wagon began to sputter as he approached the small parking lot for the ninth time. Wiping the tears from his face, Ray steered into the lot, parked the car, and left the engine running.

The wipers squeaked against the windshield, and rain tapped on the car roof. Ray tipped his head back against the headrest of the driver’s seat. He gazed over toward the shadowy edge of the lot. He couldn’t see it now, but somewhere there in the darkness began a dirt trail. It wove through the trees and shrubs, down to the lake.

He remembered parking his beat-up red VW bug in this same spot on a warm May night nearly twenty years ago. He and Jenna had been sophomores at the University of Washington, out on their first date.

Ray had been admiring her from afar ever since freshman year, when he’d spotted her at a kegger, dancing with this nerdy guy who couldn’t keep up with her. The long-haired, pretty brunette was so sexy and uninhibited. Every once in a while she whispered into her dance partner’s ear, and Ray figured that guy was the luckiest son of a bitch at the party. Ray was so enamored of her that it took him a while to notice her dance partner had one of those shriveled arms resembling a bird wing. And yet he looked so damn happy. Ray kept thinking, she could have any dude in the room, and she picked that guy. It didn’t make her a saint, but it certainly made her more interesting. For nine months, he looked for her in the cafeteria or at different parties. Unfortunately, when he spotted her on occasion, he never got up the nerve to talk with her. She was always surrounded by guys.

Then they’d ended up in the same English lit class, and he’d finally had an excuse to approach Jenna and ask her out on a date.

Ray paced himself when they split a bottle of red wine in her dorm room. He didn’t want to get drunk and smash up his VW on their way to dinner. They ate at My Brother’s Pizza in Wallingford. She loved that he had a car, and wanted to go for a drive afterward. While they aimlessly drove around Montlake, Madison Park, and Capitol Hill, Jenna talked and talked and talked. He loved listening to her, and he loved the subtle, flowery scent of her perfume in his car. At one point, she put her hand on his knee and confessed, “Ever since I first saw you in Converse’s English lit class, I’ve thought you were super cute. . . .”

After that, Jenna could have said anything. He didn’t care where they were going. He would have driven to the end of the earth with her if she wanted.

“Well, um, the feeling’s mutual,” Ray managed to reply. He tried to keep his eyes on the road. But her hand was still on his knee, and he felt his erection stirring.

It shrank a bit as Jenna told him about some of the other guys she’d been with—and how horrible they’d treated her. She’d even made a little doll resembling one guy who had really screwed her over, and she used to stick pins in it. She confessed that in high school she’d tried to kill herself twice—the first time with sleeping pills, and the second effort, with a razor blade. Both times she’d called a friend immediately after the final swallow or slash.

“Why did you do it?” Ray whispered, tightening his grip on the steering wheel.

“Call my friend?” she asked. “Or why did I try to kill myself?”


She pulled away from him a bit. Jenna leaned her head against the half-open window and gazed out at the road. Her dark hair blew in the wind. “I guess it seemed like the only way I could take control of things, and—I don’t know—get out....”

“Get out of what?”

She shrugged. “Bad relationships, mostly—and other things, too.”

“No guy’s worth killing yourself over, Jenna,” Ray murmured, glancing at her. “You must have figured that out. Is that why you called your friend?”

Still staring outside, she shook her head. “No, I just didn’t want to die all alone.” She let out a sad, little laugh. “But instead of coming over and keeping me company, my stupid friend called the police.”

“Well, I for one am glad she did,” Ray said.

Jenna was quiet for a moment. “You’re right about the guys,” she said at last. “Both those times, they were total jerks. They didn’t really love me. They were just using me. You know, I’m a firm believer in karma. They’ll get theirs— eventually. Time wounds all heels.”

Ray managed to laugh. He didn’t quite know what to think—or where this night would go. The gorgeous creature sitting across from him was pretty screwed up. But he liked her. She was vulnerable and sweet—and in need of someone to rescue her. Ray wanted to be that someone.

Jenna also had a hell of a lot more experience than him. Ray couldn’t help feeling intimidated by that. If things got sexual later on—and he was hoping they would—then, she might find him pretty inept in the lovemaking department. He’d been so crazy about her for so long, he didn’t want to disappoint her.

Jenna scooted over toward him again, and he breathed in the smell of her perfume. She nudged him. “Y’know, you’re the first person I’ve told about my suicide attempts—at least, the first person here at the U.” She rested her head on his shoulder, and fingered the buttons of his blue oxford shirt. “I meant it when I said that I can really talk to you, Ray....”

She giggled. “God, I didn’t mean to get so serious on you! We should do something fun. It’s so beautiful and warm out. We should go swimming....”

Eyes on the road, Ray thought for a moment. Back in September, he and two other guys from the dorm had gone skinny-dipping in the Arboretum late one warm Friday night. They’d had a blast. At the time, Ray kept thinking how sexy it would be to share this naked, moonlight swim with a girl.

“Well, there’s the Arboretum,” he heard himself say. “This time of night, we’d probably have the place to ourselves....”

“God, that sounds fantastic!” Jenna replied. Then she kissed him on the neck. “Let’s do it, let’s do it. . . .” Laughing, she pulled away, then leaned out her window and let out a howl.

Jenna had two Jack Daniel’s miniatures in her purse. She guzzled down one on their way to the Arboretum, and the other Ray helped her finish off once they’d parked the car.

Ray’s stomach was in nervous knots as they walked down the dark, winding dirt path toward the lake. At the same time, he was incredibly turned on. Neither one of them had said anything yet about swimsuits—or the lack thereof.

He wondered if she’d keep on her bra and panties to go swimming. Maybe once they reached the lake, if he quickly undressed down to nothing, she’d follow his lead.

They came to a field, where Ray could see the lake ahead, its silvery ripples glimmering in the moonlight. A huge tree loomed at the edge of the shore—some of the branches dipping down into the water. Ray remembered there was a rope hanging from a high limb. He and his dorm buddies had swung from it and jumped into the water several times. The 520 bridge nearby had an arterial route that had never been completed. The abandoned, blocked-off piece of road veered off the bridge and abruptly ended over this secluded section of the lake.

“Oh, good!” she declared. “No one else is around! It’s just us....”

Ray didn’t hear any laughter, chatter, or water splashing. She was right. They were alone here. It was what he wanted, but also a little scary. He’d heard stories about drug deals, muggings, and all sorts of creepy goings-on at the Arboretum late at night. The rural oasis in the middle of the city seemed the perfect place for some senseless, grisly murder.

The last time here at night with his three pals, Ray hadn’t been worried. But this was a totally different scenario, because he was here alone with a beautiful girl—and he had to protect her.

As they ventured toward the lake, Jenna seemed oblivious to the potential hazards. Weaving a bit as she walked, she half-sang and half-hummed a Eurythmics tune: “Sweet dreams are made of this. Who am I to disagree?” She started to run ahead of him. Ray watched her pull her T-shirt over her head, and then she shook out her long brown hair. Her skin almost looked blue in the moonlight. His mouth open, he gaped at her as she reached back and unhooked her bra.

“No one else is around,” she said again. “This is perfect, Ray... perfect...”

Ray started to undress, too. Jenna was already naked— and at the water’s edge. Tossing aside her clothes, she let out a scream and plunged into the lake. Ray got only a brief glimpse of her beautiful, ripe ass before the water came up to her waist. Then she was completely submerged.

Ray shucked down his jeans and undershorts. He hurried into the cold water to catch up with her, but she hadn’t resurfaced yet. The soft bottom of the lake felt slimy between his toes as he made his way toward deeper water. He kept glancing around for her, wondering where she’d swum off to. For a few moments, he panicked—until, finally, she bobbed up, and grabbed the rope that hung from a branch of the huge tree.

Ray felt at once relieved and awestruck by the sight of her. She took his breath away. She was a vision with her long, wet hair slicked back, and her flawless, creamy skin. Her breasts were small, and her nipples—hard from the cold water—looked like gumdrops.

Jenna smiled at him. “If you can catch me,” she called playfully, “you can have me as your love slave! I’ll do anything for you!”

Ray broke into a grin. “Then prepare to be caught, wench!” he announced, trying to sound like a swashbuckling pirate. He started toward her, keeping his head above water so he wouldn’t miss one moment of her in the moonlight.

Jenna scowled at him. “Did you just call me a bitch?”

“No, I said, wench...wench!” he explained, a little out of breath. “I was like—joking, y’know? I’d never seriously....”

Jenna let out a squeal, then splashed him in the face.

Momentarily blinded, Ray heard her swimming away and singing again, “Everybody’s looking for something. Some of them want to use you ...” Blinking, he turned and saw her backstroking farther into the deep end, toward the unfinished arterial road off the 520 bridge. He glanced back at the shore to make sure their clothes were still there. He saw them, still in a pile by the big tree.

But Ray saw something else on the shore, too—something or someone.

The pinpoint of light in the darkness was far away, maybe in the meadow or perhaps in the parking lot. He couldn’t tell if it was someone with a flashlight—or a single headlight. Whatever it was, the thing seemed to be coming toward them and getting brighter. Then suddenly it disappeared.

Ray stared off into the darkness for another few moments.

But he didn’t see the strange, solitary light again.

All at once, everything was quiet. He couldn’t hear Jenna singing or splashing in the water anymore. Ray swiveled around and gaped at the end of the aborted roadway jutting over the lake. Jenna was hoisting herself up to one of the support beams. “What are you doing?” he called. “Jenna, are you nuts?”

He swam toward her as fast as he could. But he wasn’t the best swimmer. He lost all sense of direction when his head was underwater. After several frenzied strokes, Ray paused to catch his breath and see where he was going. He’d veered away from the bridge. But he spotted Jenna climbing over the guardrail to the unfinished section of road.

She paused at the abrupt edge, about ten or twelve feet over the water. Headlights from passing cars on the bridge briefly illuminated her lean, nude silhouette. She looked so defiant, uninhibited, and utterly gorgeous as she stood there. Ray was mesmerized—until she slowly raised her hands over her head. He could see she was preparing to dive, and a panic swept through him.

His dad’s best friend in high school was paralyzed after diving into a quarry and hitting a boulder. Ray imagined blocks of concrete under the water by that unfinished road. “Don’t dive in there, Jenna!” he called, swimming toward her. He got water in his mouth and nose, and he began to cough. “You—you could get hurt! It’s too dangerous....”

“I don’t care,” she replied, a tremor in her voice. It sounded like she was crying. “It doesn’t matter....”

Helplessly, he watched her push off from the edge. She executed a flawless dive, plunging into the lake’s placid surface with only a small splash. Ray anxiously waited for her to emerge again, but there was no sign of her for several, long, unendurable moments.

He imagined having to carry her limp nude body all the way to the car, and then speeding to the UW Hospital.

“Jenna?” he called out, glancing around. He didn’t see her near the shore. But he noticed the little point of light again—closer than before, yet still too far away for him to figure out what it could be.

Right now, he was more concerned about Jenna. He knew she was drunk; but her mood swings were absolutely nuts. Just five minutes ago she’d been so excited, laughing and singing and flirting with him. Then up on the edge of that unfinished road, he could have sworn she was sobbing. Was she trying to commit suicide again?

For all he knew, she’d just succeeded. It had been at least a minute since Jenna had plunged into the inky water—and she still hadn’t resurfaced.

“Jenna?” he yelled, frazzled. “Goddamn it, Jenna . . .”

He turned at the sound of splashing water and saw her clutching on to the rope again. This time, there was nothing sexy about it. She was crying and gasping for air.

“Are you okay?” Ray asked, swimming toward her.

She didn’t answer him. She started to pull herself up the rope.

“Jenna, what the hell is going on?” he called. “Why are you acting like this?”

She didn’t even glance at him. A determined expression on her face, Jenna continued to shimmy up the rope. He was amazed at her strength and agility. He knew guys back in high school gym class—even a few of the jocks—who had trouble with the rope climb. Yet Jenna pulled herself up, passing the lower branches. He heard her sobbing the whole time.

“What are you doing?” Ray called, heading toward the shore now. “For God’s sake, Jenna, you’re going too high!”

She disappeared amid the top branches of the tree. But he could still hear her crying.

Naked and shivering, Ray staggered onto the muddy bank. He spotted her again, standing on one of the high branches. Jenna was shivering, too. She still held on to the rope and braced herself against another limb. She hoisted up the thick, braided cord, and then took the slack and wrapped it around her neck.

“Oh, Jesus, no,” Ray murmured, horrified. He raced to the tree and began climbing it. The branches and rough bark scratched his bare feet and scraped against his naked torso. But he pressed on, grabbing one limb and then another, struggling to reach her before she jumped. “NO!” he yelled with what little breath he had.

She gazed down at him. The rope was twisted around her neck.

“Please, Jenna,” he gasped, climbing to a higher branch. “Even if you’re kidding, cut it out. You’re giving me a heart attack here. I don’t want—I don’t want anything bad happening to you. Why are you doing this anyway?”

Numbly, she stared back at him. “Why not?” she muttered. “Who would care?”

“I would, I’d care!” he answered, pulling himself up to the same branch as her. She backed away—farther out on the limb. He didn’t want to scare her off, so he stayed close to the base of the tree. “Listen, if you’re doing this for some kind of attention, you don’t need to. You’ve always had my attention, Jenna. If—if I see you in a room, you’re all I see. I gotta tell you, I—I’m crazy about you.” He clung to the tree branch and let out a frightened laugh. “And I’d be really pissed if I lost you this early in the game. . . .”

Jenna cracked an uncertain little smile. “You like me?” she asked quietly.

He nodded. “A lot—even when you’re acting weird, like now. In fact, it makes me like you even more. How screwed up is that?”

She wiped the tears from her eyes and managed to laugh. “Pretty screwed up...”

“We make a terrific pair,” he said. Despite the fact that she stood precariously on that limb with a rope wound around her neck, Ray couldn’t help looking at Jenna’s beautiful breasts, her long limbs, and that triangle of dark pubic hair.

He noticed she was looking him up and down, as well. She started to unwrap the thick cord from around her neck.

Then she suddenly lost her footing.

Ray heard a branch snap. Jenna let out a shriek. Her arms flailing, she teetered to one side. The rope was still partially looped around her neck as she started to fall.

Paralyzed, Ray watched her careen down toward the lake. Twigs cracked and broke as her body hit them on the way down. For a few moments, everything was a blur. Ray didn’t recall scrambling out on the limb and then diving into the lake to rescue her. He just remembered plunging into the water, then bobbing up to the surface and gasping for air.

Jenna was only a few feet away, amid a whirlpool of leaves and twigs. She held her forehead and laughed while treading water. Somehow, the last loop of the rope had uncoiled during her fall. He noticed some blood on her elbow—and fresh scratch marks on her arms. But her neck and face were unmarred.

“My God, are you okay?” he asked, wiping the water and snot from his nose.

Nodding, she drifted toward him. “I can’t believe you dove in after me,” she murmured. “Do you know how high that was? You risked your life for me....”

She put her arm around him, then kissed him.

Ray was too numb to feel aroused. Exhausted, they clung to each other and made their way to the shore. He kept checking her arms for cuts and scratch marks. Jenna said she’d be okay. As they both emerged from the water, they paused to catch their breath. They gazed at each other.

Her eyes seemed to focus on his torso. She gently touched his hip. “You nicked yourself, poor baby,” she whispered.

Ray glanced down at a scrape mark along his right rib cage.

“Should I kiss it and make it better?” she whispered.

Before he could answer, she bowed down. He felt her warm breath against his cold, wet skin as she planted kisses along his rib cage. Ray shuddered gratefully. He was about to close his eyes.

But he noticed that solitary light again—coming closer.

“Wait, no ...wait, Jenna, no,” he whispered, pulling her up. “Someone’s coming....”

She looked out toward the meadow—toward the beam of light. “What is that?”

Ray urgently pulled her toward the base of the tree, where they’d left their clothes. “Let’s get dressed, c’mon....” He reached for his undershorts.

“What is that?” she repeated. Then she called out, “Who’s there? Is somebody there?”

Ray put on his boxers, then grabbed her bra and shook it at her. “Y’know, Jenna,” he whispered, “it might be a good idea to put some clothes on.”

With a perturbed look, she took the bra and slipped it on.

Ray swiped up her panties and handed them to her. He glanced toward that eerie, single spot of light again. Now he could see a person behind it. Someone with a flashlight was coming toward them. Ray quickly stepped into his jeans and threw on his shirt. To his utter frustration, Jenna was taking her sweet time getting dressed. She stood there in just her bra and panties, squinting at that lone figure with a flashlight.

Ray tried to get a good look at the man, but the flashlight was blinding him. He heard the man’s feet shuffling as the light got closer and brighter. Ray shielded his eyes. “Who’s there? Can I—can I help you?”

The light shined on Jenna. She sneered at the man behind it. “What the hell do you want?”

Now Ray could see the lean, tall man in a police uniform. He was about thirty-five, with black hair and a thin, weather- lined face. His police cap was tucked under his arm. “Seattle Police,” he announced. “Are there any more of you out here? Or is it just you two kids?”

Ray swallowed hard. “It’s just us. . . .”

“Is that your red Volkswagen in the lot?” he asked.

Ray nodded. “Yes, that’s my car. I’m sorry. Were we making too much noise?”

“It’s not a case of too much noise,” the cop said, directing the light at him again. “This park closes at ten p.m. So it’s a case of trespassing—and indecent exposure.”

About Kevin O'Brien:

Kevin O'Brien is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over twenty suspense novels. Before his books landed him on the bestseller lists, he was a railroad inspector who wrote at night. He moved from the train tracks to become a full-time author in 1997 when his novel, Only Son, was picked up by Readers Digest and optioned for film. Since then, his books have been translated into fourteen languages. Born and raised in Chicago, O'Brien now lives in Seattle, where he is on the board of Seattle 7 Writers, a collective of bestselling, award-winning authors. Please visit Kevin online at

Average Customer Review

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Customer Review

Must read (Tuesday, May 10, 2011)
Reviewer: marianne

I have read Kevin O'Brien books in the past, I have always liked them, but I forget about him as an author and don't look out for his new releases...I MUST CHANGE THAT!!!!! This is one of the best mystery/thrillers I have read in a long time (and it is my first choice in genres). This had it all, thrills, revenge, plot twists, serial killers, you name it. If you live on a cul-de-sac, you may not want to read this one! I was impressed with character development, the plot twists and really cannot say enough about this one, truly one you have to read!

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