CHAPTER TWO

Face could have sworn he'd driven down this same damn road at least twice already. He glanced at his watch. He should've been at Tovey's place twenty minutes ago. Damn.

He looked around one more time. He knew this area. He'd helped the sweetest little old lady catalog her art collection not more than six months ago, only blocks from here. Hard not to learn your way around when you lived someplace for weeks. And yet, the turn he was looking for just wasn't there. Surely the city hadn't done that much roadwork around here.

There! Almost too late he saw the street sign and made a quick turn. Relieved, he drove for a few more minutes, faster than he really should, knowing Amy would be wondering where he was. He'd tried calling her on her car phone, but got nothing but static, and there was no answer at Tovey's house either. Which didn't improve his mood any. He consoled himself that those goons from San Diego couldn't possibly have gotten up here yet. Maybe Amy had just been busy with the kids.

He sighed. Three little kids and Amy. This was not going to be a good night. Not that he didn't like kids. And he had no problem with Amy, either, although she did have a habit of trying to take charge. But neither she nor Face had a lot of experience with kids. So the combination of the two...he shook his head. Definitely not a good night.

He looked around. The house should be right around here somewhere. He frowned. He knew there were a lot of exclusive estates out here, but this road looked deserted. The houses must really be back from the road. Funny. Tovey hadn't seemed like the über rich type.

He was beginning to think he'd gotten on the wrong road when he rounded a corner and saw the gate. Luckily, one of the very few street lights was close to it, or he never would have seen the gate, let alone the number on it. One more glance at his watch and he pulled up to the gate. He didn't even have a chance to ring the buzzer when the gates started opening. He frowned, then shrugged. Amy must have been watching pretty closely for him. He drove through the gates and watched in the mirror as they began closing almost immediately after him.

He drove through the trees slowly. He did not like this. Anybody coming onto the grounds would have an easy stroll to the house. No way he'd be able to patrol all of this. What the hell had Hannibal been thinking? They should've taken those kids and stashed them in a hotel some place...

Kids. What kind of person threatened a man's children? And the client, Fred Tovey, had no idea who this guy was, or why he was apparently so angry with him. Tovey did run the kind of business that could generate enemies, of course. Buying up old, dilapidated buildings and either tearing them down or refurbishing them. Some of the people living in them didn't want to move, but as far as the team had been able to determine, Tovey had been more than fair in his offers. No, whoever was making these threats wasn't thinking straight, that was obvious.

So involved was Face in his thoughts that he almost rear-ended Amy's car. He slammed on the brakes, and looked around, surprised. The house had practically popped up in front of him. Not good. Once again he sent black thoughts Hannibal's way. Guarding this place was going to be a nightmare.


*****

Amy moved further into the house. She pushed open a swinging door. Kitchen. Very clean, neat. Old. Moving farther into the room, she decided the Tovey's were into restoration. Everything old style, but looking brand new. She spied another set of stairs by the back door, probably leading up to the servants' quarters. She moved over to them, looked up into the darkness.

"Kids?" Damn, she should have insisted Mrs Tovey introduce the girls before she left. Or at least made them come out of hiding. Probably playing a big joke on the new babysitter. "Girls?" She called up the stairwell, grimacing at the dull echo. "Girls? C'mon, joke's over, okay? Come down and we'll get acquainted."

There. She heard that giggle. Practically at the top of the stairs. She looked for a light switch and found it just beside the door. Flicking it did no good, though. It clicked. Nothing more.

"Damn it!" She kept her frustration to herself. She remembered what it was like to pull pranks on adults - the more upset they became, the more fun it was. Until the consequences came, anyway. Shaking her head, wishing she had a flashlight, she started up the stairs. She immediately heard the scurrying of small feet, racing away into the darkness.

"Hannibal, you owe me big time!"

Determinedly, she started up the stairs, feeling her way along the wall. The steps creaked beneath her, and the air was musty. Obviously the family didn't use this stairwell very often. She tried not to think of the myriad tiny creatures that might be watching from the dark corners. Reaching the top, she peered into the darkness. How could anyone see up here, let alone run?

"Girls! Enough is enough. You don't want me to have to tell your parents how naughty you've been, do you?"

The silence was getting oppressive. Amy was about to give up and feel her way back down to the light when she heard the softest shuffle. Down at the end of a long hallway, she could see the faintest of lights, and three small figures moving slowly toward her, dressed in long nightdresses. She forced herself to smile.

"That's better, girls. I don't want to get you into any trouble, but I do think we need to go downstairs now, don't you?"

The tallest of the three stopped, the others hiding behind her.

"I'm sorry, Miss. We were only playing."

Very polite, for all their mischief. Amy smiled more easily. "Don't worry about it. But we should go down now; it's getting chilly up here."

The girls hesitated, but as Amy moved down the stairs, checking behind her to make sure they didn't fall, they slowly followed suit. In a moment they were in the kitchen, and she got a closer look at her three charges. All were rather frail looking, with fair skin and blond, almost white hair. The oldest couldn't be more than seven, the other two maybe six and five. They arranged themselves in a row along the kitchen table, and gazed at her with somber eyes.

"This is better, isn't it? My name is Amy. I'm afraid your mother was in a bit of a rush, and didn't have a chance to tell me yours."

"I'm Mary. This is Linda and Barbara. They don't talk."

"They don't?"

"Only to me. They're too little and afraid to talk to anyone else."

"Ah, well, that's okay. I'm sure we'll get along just fine. Why don't we go into the front room? I'm expecting a friend of mine any time now; we can wait for him together."

Mary looked alarmed. "Oh, no, we aren't allowed in the parlor. Mama doesn't like us in there. She says we could break something."

"Well, I'm sure it will be all right, just for tonight. I know you'll be careful, and if anything does get broken by accident, I'll take the blame." She smiled again, though she wondered at the kind of parenting these girls had.

Reluctantly, Mary nodded. Amy noticed they didn't move until Amy started for the "parlor", and then the younger two each took one of Mary's hands. As they entered the front room, the girls hesitated again, but Amy plopped down on the overstuffed couch and patted it.

"C'mon, sit beside me. Not much chance of breaking anything if you're sitting here."

Moving as one, the girls slowly settled on the couch. Amy noticed they kept their distance from her. Well, she was, after all, a stranger to them.

"My friend should be here very soon. Maybe we can play a game when he gets here."

The girls just looked at her, silent.

"You'll like him. He's very nice."

Silence.

Amy looked around, drumming her fingers on her knees. There was no television, but there were several shelves of books against the wall. Amy stood and walked over, looking for something that might entertain the girls. She didn't recognize many of the titles. Definitely nothing here suitable for kids. She glanced back at the girls, smiling desperately. My lips are going to freeze into a smile pretty soon, she thought.

Suddenly there was a sharp rap at the front door. With an almost audible sigh of relief, Amy headed for the front hall.

"That'll be my friend, girls. You'll like him."

She reached the door and pulled it open. Face stood there, the wind catching his hair. Amy caught a glimpse of distant lightning.

"What's going on, Amy? I've been trying to call you and no one answered. Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine, Face. The phone never rang. At least, I don't think it did. I don't even know where it is yet. Never mind, you're here now. Come in and close the door. I want you to meet the girls."

She turned and stepped to the parlor door, looking back as Face closed the door against the rising wind.

"They're in here, Face. Girls, I'd like you to meet..." She stopped dead in the doorway.

The parlor was empty.