If Katheyn O'Hanlon had one wish, it would be to lead a normal life. If she had a second, it would be a memory of her childhood and the source of her nightmares. Psi-linked to her four-year-old nephew, Kyle Thompson, she is dragged back to the city of her nightmares...Pittsburgh.
Kyle's father has been brutally murdered, and Kyle claims his toy tigers have done the deed, led by Ty, the Siberian. It is up to Katheryn to remember where Tiberius Matthews is and how to destroy him, before he destroys everything she cares about.
Is Kyle haunted by the homicidal family ghost or being driven insane by the horrorscope trapped in the depths of Katheryn's mind? And, can Katheryn keep Keith Randall, an old flame who takes the job of Kyle's counselor, out of the line of fire while she does her work?
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
Peter glared at Tasha Sterns. "Out!"
"Dammit! I said get outta my haus. He's my son, and he's staying with me this afternoon. Is that a problem?"
"No, of c-course--"
Her stammering deepened Peter's disgust for her. "Then get out... now. "
She nodded and grabbed her purse and raincoat. "He's down for his nap. Snack is at four."
Doesn't she ever shut up? "Do you think I don't know how to take care of my son?" he asked dangerously.
Tasha shook her head and ducked toward the door. Peter grinned in satisfaction as it closed behind her.
"Good riddance." It was a good thing for Tasha that she had this cozy job watching the kid. She certainly didn't have anything else to recommend her.
Never before had Peter encountered a woman with nothing going for her. Even his wife had her looks. Carol was a nagging bitch and too smart for her own good, but she was a fine piece of work and damn good in bed...when she wasn't pissed off. Of course, she was always pissed off these days.
Everything was the kid. She went back to work, because Peter didn't provide enough for the kid. He needed clothes and childcare. Now, Carol claimed that the brat was having emotional problems. Predictably, that one was pinned on Peter, too. Everything was his fault, as far as Carol was concerned.
Problems? If Kyle had any problems, they stemmed from all the damned coddling the women heaped on him. From his mother-in-law to his wife to that mousy, useless woman Carol hired to watch him, without even consulting Peter, everyone walked on eggshells around the kid.
All he needed was a firm hand. It had worked for Peter, and it would work for Kyle.
They would see. Today was the start of his son's new life.
Resolved, he walked up to Kyle's room. Peter could hear him in there, talking to himself. No, not talking to himself. He's talking to that damned toy! Of course, Kyle loved the tiger. After all, she gave it to him. The tigers will be the first things to go, he decided.
Kyle looked up as the door opened. His smile disappeared, and he launched onto the bed and wrapped his arms around the white tiger.
"Come over here," Peter ordered.
Kyle looked around with wide, frantic eyes.
"Dammit! I said, come here. I'm your father."
Kyle hugged the tiger closer to his chest, shaking his head, and Peter growled his frustration. He wrenched the toy from his son's hands and silenced the brat's wail of protest with a slap across the face. Then, he threw the tiger into the far corner of the room and grabbed the sniveling child by his arms, holding him a foot off of his twin bed.
"You do what I say. You don't ignore me," Peter thundered.
Kyle's eyes flicked away, then widened in shock. A flash of movement caught Peter's attention. He turned his head to look, but there was nothing there. Just the pile of toys tossed haphazardly around the room. He shook his head and turned back to Kyle.
"Now--" The movement was there again. Peter shivered as he glanced at the toys out of the corner of his eye.
"No, Ty," Kyle cried out.
Peter looked at him in confusion, jumping back in shock as he heard the deep growl behind him, dropping the whelp to the bed. The tigers were lined up across the room, and the albino one was up front.
"He's not albino," Kyle whispered. "He's Amur. Other tigers can be white, but he's winter Amur. If he was albino, his stripes wouldn't be black. He wouldn't have stripes."
Peter looked at him in confusion; then realization set in. His rage spiked, and he lunged at Kyle again, pulling him face-to-face with him. "You're like her. She can do that, too. She can eavesdrop on thoughts like that. I won't allow it, Kyle! Stop this. Stop it now, or you'll be sorry."
Kyle's smile was sad and serene. "I'm not doing it, Daddy. Ty is."
His mind froze for a moment, grasping dimly at the truth. "Ty is a toy, Kyle. He's not real. You're doing this, now stop it!" He added a shake to snap his son into compliance.
Peter dropped Kyle on the bed and backed away, as an ear-splitting roar cut the air in the room. He clapped his hands over his ears, as the room shook with the force of the sound.
In the silence that followed, Kyle laughed in delight. "You can hear a tiger roar for more than two miles."
Peter's mouth went dry. His gaze locked on the tigers. "Good God," he breathed.
They stalked toward him. The white one pulled back his cheeks and bared impossibly long teeth. Peter backed to the wall and shook his head painfully, trying to banish the sight. Long claws sank into the carpet as they closed on him.
"Call them off, Kyle. For the love of God, call them off."
"I can't. Tigers are solitary. They don't have an alpha."
Peter looked at his son in shock and dismay. "How could you learn that? You're only four years old."
"Ty told me. Ty doesn't like you, Daddy." Kyle didn't seem to be seeing anything anymore. He sat on his bed, his arms wrapped around his legs, and rocked, looking through the advancing tigers.
"No. Don't do this, Kyle. Please, don't."
Kyle didn't answer. The tigers pounced. Fire trails of pain branded Peter's body in eight different locations at once.
"Tigers have three- to four-inch claws on each toe and five toes on their forepaws," the child offered quietly.
New fire trails snapped Peter into focus. He bellowed in rage and pain, but the scream was cut off as it started by crushing pressure to his throat.
"Large prey is brought down by suffocation...by biting the front of the neck," Kyle informed him.
A new set of fire trails appeared. The pressure disappeared, and Peter collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath.
The tigers were scattered back in a heap where Kyle had discarded them earlier. Nothing moved. Nothing had changed from before the attack.
Peter's hand ached, and he looked down at himself. Red, raised ridges like scratches covered his hands and arms. From the feel of it, they also covered his legs, chest, face, and back. Peter swallowed painfully and pushed to his feet. "I'll leave now," he whispered hoarsely.
"No, you won't."
Peter backed toward the door. Tears pooled in his eyes; he shook his head, knocking one loose. Whatever Kyle was about to do would surely be worse than a simple death.
Kyle locked on his father's eyes, and an angry light burned out from what was typically a friendly blue. A spike of pain gripped Peter's mind. Through the haze of it, he could see Kyle's mouth moving, but the voice was that of a strange man.
"I'm not Kyle."
He heard the voice deep in his mind. A fresh pain gripped him, and a sudden calm passed over him. The welts burned, while the rest of his skin cooled.
"You know what to do," the voice continued in an eerie, soothing tone.
Peter turned and walked out into the hall. In the bathroom, he pulled out a razor blade from the pack. He traced the line of one of the welts, and the burning eased. He traced a second one. A third. The effect was a cool calm. Peter worked furiously, eradicating the painful sites, one by one, until his entire body was blissfully cool and comfortable.
He sank to the floor, abruptly exhausted from his healing efforts. Beautiful colors danced before his eyes, and red silk brushed over his body. As Peter closed his eyes, he heard vicious laughter.
Pain gripped his entire body at once, and he spasmed under the assault, landing awkwardly on the tile. Tears fell from his eyes and burned over the cuts on his cheeks. Then, blessed unconsciousness obliterated everything and silenced Ty's awful laugh.
* * * *
Katheryn O'Hanlon shot upright in bed and stifled the bloodcurdling scream behind her lips. Joan wasn't counting on a wake-up like that when she invited her friend to spend the week on her farm. They'd met at Vericon the previous year, while Katheryn was living in Massachusetts and Joan was visiting her niece, and had hit it off immediately. So, when Joan had suggested she stay at the farm in Vader while Katheryn did research on Seattle, she'd taken the older woman up on the offer.
Katheryn checked her watch, groaning. She should have screamed, after all. It was ten o'clock, and Joan would be long gone.
She tried to still her heart as she reached for the phone. Once she talked to Kyle, Katheryn would be able to relax. She let the phone ring a dozen times before hanging up in disgust.
"Okay," she argued with herself, "maybe Tasha took him out for the day. Maybe they're at the park."
She growled in frustration. "They're not. You know they're not. Dammit!"
Katheryn swung off the bed and grabbed her suitcase. She dialed the airline while she threw her clothes in the bag. Her ticket changed for the afternoon flight back to Greater Pittsburgh, she pulled on her clothes, ran a brush through her hair and threw her toiletries in her suitcase. Katheryn glanced at her tired, bruised eyes in the mirror and decided she looked much older than her thirty-two years. A quick note to Joan and she was on her way to the airport in the rental car.
She cursed herself the whole way there. Reactionary, flighty, insane! What was wrong with her?
But, Katheryn didn't need to answer that one. Kyle was wrong with her. This damned plague in her head was wrong with her. This damned birth defect. This mistake of nature. She was a mistake of nature that should have died long ago.
After she checked in, Katheryn paced nervously at the gate. Finally, her pager buzzed, and she sprinted to the pay phones to punch in the number her mother had left.
"Katheryn?" Dianna answered.
"I board in thirty minutes, Mother."
"But, I thought..." Dianna reverted to her characteristic calm reserve. "He's in Mercy. When will you arrive?"
"If all goes well, between ten and eleven." She paused. "How is he?"
"He needs you."
"I know. I'll be there as soon as I can."
Katheryn bit her cheek to hold back her anger. This time, it wasn't Mother's fault, after all. "I have to go. They'll be calling my flight soon."
"Of course. I'll see you tonight, Katheryn."
"Sure." She hung up and repositioned her backpack on her shoulders. "No, Mother," Katheryn bit out under her breath. "You have never understood. You never will."
* * * *
Carol stared at Kyle through the glass. His blood sugar was stabilized, an alarming anomaly that seemed to have something to do with his trauma, though no one knew exactly what. He hadn't fought the IV. He didn't fight anything. He just stared.
"Mrs. Thompson?" The young detective next to her spoke softly, and she nodded, turning to face him. "I'm sorry, but I need to ask these questions."
She nodded again and took a deep breath. "Of course. I'll tell you what I can."
"You came home early?"
"Yes. My babysitter called and told me that Peter came home and sent her away."
"That was a concern?" His gaze didn't leave the pad, but Carol could see a muscle tense in his jaw as he waited for her answer.
"Yes," she admitted quietly. "He hadn't been physically abusive to Kyle, but we were having problems. I was discussing leaving him. He's not--stable."
He met her eyes, and Carol could read the unspoken sarcastic 'obviously' in his expression. She sighed at the thought that Mac was going to have a long talk with her about that one.
"What happened when you got home?" he continued, ignoring her sigh.
"I started searching for Kyle. No one answered my calls. He was on his bed with a wide-eyed stare and that awful hand print on his face. I tried to get him to answer me, but he wouldn't. I headed back to the bathroom to get a cool compress and was trying to decide whether to call 911 or take him to the emergency room. That's when," Carol shuddered reflexively at the memory, "I saw Peter on the floor."
"You didn't check him for a pulse?"
"I may not be a doctor, but I know no one can lose that much blood and live." He nodded grimly. "You requested Mercy instead of Children's or South Side?"
"Kyle's doctor practices here. It's easier that way." She shrugged.
"Okay. I just need a little more information."
Carol gave him names and phone numbers for Tasha and Bobbie. My alibi, she thought ruefully. Unless the medical examiner decided it was suicide, she'd need one.
She shuddered at the thought. Suicide? Who was she kidding? No one suicides by slicing himself up like that.
Mom had been at work and Katie in Washington State. Surely, no one would think Kyle was capable of killing a full-grown man. Who else would want Peter dead? A drinking buddy? A cuckolded husband? Peter wasn't well loved. That much was true.
The problem was Kyle. Did the person who killed Peter simply not know their son was there? What did Kyle see? Carol prayed he only saw Peter's body...then grimaced at the thought that he saw that much.
Did Peter cause the bruise of a hand rising on Kyle's cheek? Who else would? Surely, if Kyle saw the killer-- If the killer knew-- Carol couldn't finish the thought. Because of that thought, more than anything else, she hadn't complained when Mac assigned an officer to her son's door.
Carol watched Kyle while he slept, knowing that he would be no better when he woke. She cringed when she considered the nightmares he would have, and she prayed he wouldn't scream.
Katie had screamed, sometimes every night. While Katie's traumas lay in Carol's house, Carol's lay in their mother's home. Carol would never live there, as Katie would never spend the night in Grandmother's old house.
The door opened behind her, and Dianna came in with a tray of food. She set it on the wheeled table and pushed the contraption in front of her younger daughter. "Eat this. Starving yourself while you worry won't help. Believe me, I know."
"How did you ever survive this?"
"Your father--" Dianna shook her head and looked away abruptly, no doubt as she realized that her daughter had no such comfort. Even if Peter weren't dead now, he would hardly be a comfort or help.
Carol nodded. "Did you reach her?"
"She was at the airport, getting ready to board her plane. She'll be here tonight."
"Good," Carol decided bitterly. "If anyone can reach Kyle, Katie can."
Dianna sighed and sank into a chair beside her younger daughter. "I don't like it any more than you do."
"You don't understand, Mom. She's been warning me for months."
"Do you really think your sister will tell you, 'I told you so'?"
"No, not Katie, but I'll know. Why is she more in control of my life than I am?"
"Do you do what she tells you?" Dianna asked pointedly.
"You know I don't. But she's never wrong, Mom. When I don't listen, there's hell to pay."
"So, take it as advice instead of orders. Katheryn doesn't want to order you around. She just wants to protect you, like she always...has." She trailed off sadly.
"Do you know that? You don't, do you? None of us really does, and we never will." Dianna nodded in understanding and pushed the tray closer. None of them would ever know. Even the people who had been there had no clear memories.
Katie least of all!