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 DiePrologue
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
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
“Get out of what?”
She shrugged. “Bad relationships, mostly—and other
“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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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.”