I'm jumping the gun a bit, but here's an excerpt from Collateral Damage. I sent in what I hope are the last two final galley changes over the weekend and am pretty excited about the book. Hope you enjoy it.
She lay on the bed with her eyes wide open. Music and laughter filtered up the stairs, echoing across the room. Her dolls Hannah and Christie lay on either side of her, as sleepless as she was. She wished the guests would leave so Santa could land his reindeer on the roof and bring her the Barbie Dream House she asked him for. The milk and cookies she left out on the kitchen table for him would be stale by the time the party ended. If he didn’t like them would he change his mind about the Barbie Dream House?
No. Santa wasn’t like that. If you were good all year long he didn’t care if you messed up and left stale cookies for him. It was the thought that counted. She felt a little better until another idea popped into her brain. Maybe there wouldn’t be any cookies left at all by the time everybody finally got around to leaving. Maybe he would eat them. The year before she’d snuck down into the kitchen and seen him sitting there at the table, his tie loosened and his shirt untucked as he popped the Oreos into his mouth one by one. When they were all gone he dumped the milk down the drain and finished off with a swig of golden liquid instead.
When she saw him the next day he winked at her, as if he’d known all along she was watching him from the shadows. “My little spy,” he said. “Always turning up where you least expect her.”
She tried not to make a face. He didn’t like it when she wasn’t nice. But there were some things people shouldn’t get away with. “You ate Santa’s cookies.”
“So I did. But I don’t think he’d mind.”
“I think he would.”
“Remember,” he said, leaning down and taking her chin between his fingers, “curiosity killed the cat.”
“Obviously, you haven’t been listening.”
“You’re hurting me.”
“Am I?” He released his grip. “I’m sorry, baby. You know I’d never hurt you.”
The memory made her shiver, even though she knew that didn’t make sense. After all, she’d known him her whole life. She heard a noise outside her door, like ice in a glass. Her heart started beating faster, thudding in her chest. She clutched at her dolls with both hands and held her breath.
The door opened a crack. Behind closed eyelids, she could feel the light shining into the room.
When the door closed a few seconds later she let out her breath all at once and took a great gulp of air. After a few minutes her heart stopped beating so fast. Downstairs somebody was playing the piano and a woman was singing along. The woman’s words sounded funny, like she couldn’t say her s’s right. She sounded like Kayla Kilhart at school who always left Reading to meet with Mr. Wilson.
At the end of the hallway, a door opened and shut.
There was only one room at the end of the hallway and nobody was supposed to go inside. It was the room that belonged to her mother. Her father didn’t let anybody in there.
Not even her.
She sat up and listened. It was quiet, except for the sounds of the party and the woman downstairs singing “Joy to the World.” Tucking Hannah under her arm, she climbed out of bed and crept over to the door. It was open but only a crack. Not enough for her to see anything.
She pulled it open a few more inches and looked at the door that never opened. It was shut, just like it always was.
She took a step into the hallway. She knew she shouldn’t but something was making her. Something inside her she couldn’t stop.
She wanted to see the inside of that room. She wanted to know what her mother left behind. Maybe she bought her a present, a Christmas present. Or wrote her a letter telling her when she was coming back for her. There might be important instructions in it about where she should meet her.
As softly as she could, she walked to the end of the hallway. On the other side of the door, all was silent. Her throat started to hurt.
When she wrapped her hand around the doorknob she saw that her arm was shaking. She twisted the knob and pushed the door open a few inches.
She pushed a little more and slipped into the room. It was totally black, too scary to stay another second. She stepped backward and hit her elbow on the door, dropping Hannah onto the rug. She clamped her hand over her mouth as she cried out but it was too late.
The lamp next to the bed snapped on. The light hurt her eyes. Or maybe she didn’t want to see what was on the bed.
“You forgot about the cat.”