Daddy’s Little Girls: A thriller and mystery preview
Daddy’s Little Girls, the second book in the Thomas Shepherd thriller and mystery series, releases on Amazon this Friday, January 20.
Want a free preview? Click on the video as I read the first chapter in its entirety. Or enjoy the transcript below.
Clouds shrouded the October moon as the van jounced up a rutted road. The driver leaned over the steering wheel and peered into the night. Where was the turnoff? It had to be close.
The GPS told him Wolf Lake was somewhere to his left, though he couldn’t see the water in the moonless night. Carried by a howling wind, dead leaves blew across the windshield. Here and there, he found a porch light shining. Most of the houses stood in darkness. The dashboard clock read midnight. It was time.
An open lot lay between two lake cottages. He stopped the van and shut off the motor, reveling in a silence that made his ears ring. The engine cooled. Tick, tick, tick. A wall divided the front and rear of the van; no sound came from the back. Good. The potholes hadn’t jostled her out of sleep.
The wind continued to beat against the vehicle. Chimes hanging from a nearby porch rang like a bell tolling for the dead. From beneath the seat, he removed the picture frame without looking at the photo behind the glass. Doing so brought too much pain. He needed to sever ties.
After he slipped the frame inside his jacket, he stepped into the chilly night. His sneakers crunched on the gravel shoulder. A click of the key fob locked the van doors. He studied the houses and ensured no one spied on him. Though the lake remained invisible from the road, he heard the breakers and tasted the humidity. Wolf Lake was the cleanest, most pristine body of water in New York State, perfect for his purposes.
He clicked the flashlight and swept the beam across the yard. This carried risk, but it was too dark to find what he sought. The light landed on a wooden structure off the shore.
This was it.
Behind a cottage to his left, a dock led into the water. Someone had dragged a kayak ashore, and he grabbed it by the handle and pulled it to the shoreline. Water sloshed against the rocks. The lake appeared black and angry, driven by the gale. He located the oars on the lawn.
Again the man glanced behind and searched for witnesses to his private funeral.
The tide battled the kayak until he was several yards off the shore. Then the lake seemed to drag him away from civilization. For a moment, a sense of helplessness overcame his mind. What if the current was too strong for him to return to shore? The man didn’t care if he lived or died, but he had a daughter to think about. Who would watch over her if something terrible happened to him? Even now she slept, probably dreaming of princesses and castles in the sky. His throat constricted when he pictured the girl curled inside her sleeping bag. So innocent, so vulnerable. He determined to return to her, no matter how hard the lake fought his efforts.
Ten minutes passed before he reached the center of the lake. His arms felt like rubber bands from the exertion. A tear crept down his cheek, and a heaviness weighed on his heart. From here, he looked back at the sleeping houses. Were those families as perfect as his? People took life and happiness for granted. It could all be wrenched away in the blink of an eye. This he knew.
He couldn’t bring himself to get the picture frame out of his jacket. The cold finality made him question the decision. If he said farewell, it was forever. This was the only moment from his previous life, the one he’d abandoned after the pain grew too much to bear. He had to say goodbye. There was no other choice.
Thinking of his sleeping daughter forced his hand and lent him the courage to do what must be done. He removed the frame and kissed the glass, warm from his body heat. It was impossible to see their faces in the dark. That was for the best. They were dead to him now.
The frame hit the water and floated on the waves. He worried it wouldn’t sink before a breaker engulfed the picture and dragged it down.
He reached for the photograph, but it was beyond his reach. Gone forever.
The man leaned his head back and howled. Tears blurred the black sky. Were it not for the loving daughter awaiting him in the van, he would have jumped in and followed the picture frame to the bottom of the lake. He had to regain control; he wouldn’t let his girl see him like this.
“I have a new family now,” he said, firming his chin.
He swiped the tears off his cheeks. A wave had soaked his shirt. With renewed determination, he turned the boat around and struggled back to shore. Nature couldn’t stand in his way.
When the nose of the kayak nudged the shoreline, the man exhaled. His arms hung at his sides. A quick scan of the cottages revealed his cries hadn’t awakened the homeowners. Perhaps the wind had masked his pain.
He dragged the kayak ashore and tossed the oars where he’d found them. The cold air rippled goosebumps across his skin.
It wasn’t until he was halfway across the lawn that he remembered the flashlight. He’d left it in the kayak. This wasn’t the time for mistakes.
He returned and snatched the flashlight a second before the porch light switched on. He ducked and lay flat on his stomach, shielded by the kayak.
A man’s voice came from the doorway. What if he noticed the van and reported the plate number to the sheriff’s department?
“Anyone out there? I’m calling the police. You better not steal anything.”
It seemed like hours before the door closed and the light flicked off. Was this a trap? The homeowner might be at the window, waiting for the thief to stand and show his face.
Crouching low, knowing he had to get back to his daughter, he hurried across the lawn and escaped without raising alarm. He climbed into the vehicle and eased the door shut, unwilling to turn the key in the ignition until he was certain the homeowner had gone back to sleep. A thump from behind told him his daughter was awake. She shouldn’t be. Sleep was critical for a growing girl.
The man gritted his teeth and cranked the engine. He shifted into drive and coasted down the incline, past the sleepy lake cottages.
With his task complete, he felt reborn. Optimism about the future warmed his soul, and his body vibrated with positive energy. He had put the agony behind him. His daughters deserved nothing less than a father who placed them at the center of his life. As the tires crackled over the road, he whistled a cheerful tune from an old Disney movie.
In the back of the van, the screaming started.