Author Lisa Gardner prefers her birthday to remain, well, a mystery. What we do know is that she published her first novel at the scant age of 20, which in the publishing industry constitutes something of a modern miracle. Initially a romance author, Lisa Gardner began writing suspense novels in 1997, starting with the pulse-pounding The Perfect Husband, which became a New York Times bestseller and earned her legions of fans. Among the most beloved Lisa Gardner books are the "Detective D.D. Warren" series, which includes bestselling books Alone (2005), Hide (2007), The Neighbor (2009), and Live to Tell (2010). Like most of her suspense novels, these last two titles enjoyed long stints on the New York Times bestseller list and earned rapturous reviews. Booklist called Live to Tell one of her "most unsettling" novels, while Publishers Weekly hailed it, simply, as "outstanding." What's more, The Neighbor was honored with the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover of the Year. Gardner's "FBI Profiler" series of suspense novels has proven especially popular with fans, including bestselling books like The Third Victim (2001), The Next Accident (2001), The Killing Hour (2003), Gone (2006), and Say Goodbye (2008). Astonishingly, there are over 25 Lisa Gardner books in all. Asked about her working process, she says, "I like to write first thing in the morning, armed with a giant mug of coffee and a cat to warm my lap... It usually takes me six months to draft a novel, then three months to polish it to a point where I decide it's not horrible." She currently lives in New Hampshire with her husband.
The little girl woke up the way she’d been trained: quickly and quietly. She inhaled once, a hushed gasp in the still night, then her eyes fixed on her mother’s drawn face.
“Shhh,” her mother whispered, finger to her lips. “They’re com¬ing. It’s time, child. Move.”
The girl threw back her covers and sat up. The winter night was cold; she could see her breath as a frosty mist in the glowing moon¬light. The little girl was prepared, however. She and her older sister always slept fully dressed, layering T- shirts, sweatshirts, and coats regardless of season. You never knew when They might come, flush¬ing their prey from warm sanctuary into the treacherous wild. Un¬prepared children would fail quickly, succumbing to exposure, dehydration, fear.
Not the little girl and her sister. They’d planned for such events. Their mother, from the time they could walk, had trained them to survive.
Now the little girl grabbed her backpack from the foot of her bed. She slipped the wide straps over her shoulders while sliding her small feet into her loosely laced sneakers. Then she followed her mother onto the darkened second- story landing. Her mother paused at the top of the stairs, finger on her lips, as she peered down into the gloom.
The little girl halted a step behind her mother. She glanced toward the back of the hall, where her sister usually slept. The tiny rental didn’t allow for her older sister to have her own room, or even her
own bed. Instead, her sister slept on the floor, with her coat as a mat¬tress and her backpack as a pillow. As a good soldier should, their mother said.
But the spot against the far wall was empty— no sister, no coat, no frayed red pack. Fully awake now, the little girl felt the first tingle of fear and had to resist the urge to call out her older sister’s name.
Her mother’s instructions on this subject were firm: They were not to worry about each other, they were not to wait for one an¬other. Instead, they were to get out of the house and into the woods. Immediately. Once they’d managed to safely evac and evade, then they would meet up at the predetermined rendezvous points. But first priority, get out of the house, elude capture.
And if they did not . . .
As their mother had told them many times, thin features pinched, face too old for her years: Be brave. Everyone has to die sometime.
The little girl’s mother descended the first step, staying to the far right, where the riser was less likely to groan. Her oversized wool coat swirled around her legs as she moved, like a black cat weaving around her ankles.
The little girl followed in her mother’s wake, placing each foot with similar care while she strained her ears for sounds from the darkness below. Their tiny two- story rental used to be a farmhouse. It was located away from town, down a long dirt road on a dusty brown patch of land at the edge of the woods.
It’s a question anyone should be able to answer. A question that defines a life, creates a future, guides most minutes of one’s days. Simple, elegant, encompassing.
Who do you love?
He asked the question, and I felt the answer in the weight of my duty belt, the constrictive confines of my armored vest, the tight brim of my trooper’s hat, pulled low over my brow. I reached down slowly, my fingers just brushing the top of my Sig Sauer, holstered at my hip.
"Who do you love?" he cried again, louder now, more insistent.
My fingers bypassed my state- issued weapon, finding the black leather keeper that held my duty belt to my waist. The Velcro rasped loudly as I unfastened the first band, then the second, third, fourth. I worked the metal buckle, then my twenty pound duty belt, complete with my sidearm, Taser, and collapsible steel baton released from my waist and dangled in the space between us.
"Don’t do this," I whispered, one last shot at reason.
He merely smiled. "Too little, too late."
"Where’s Sophie? What did you do?"
"Belt. On the table. Now."
"GUN. On the table. NOW!"
In response, I widened my stance, squaring off in the middle of the kitchen, duty belt still suspended from my left hand. Four years of my life, patrolling the highways of Massachusetts, swearing to defend and protect. I had training and experience on my side.
I could go for my gun. Commit to the act, grab the Sig Sauer, and start shooting.
Sig Sauer was holstered at an awkward angle that would cost me precious seconds. He was watching, waiting for any sudden movement. Failure would be firmly and terribly punished.
Who do you love?
He was right. That’s what it came down to in the end. Who did you love and how much would you risk for them?
"GUN!" he boomed. "Now, dammit!"
I thought of my six- year- old daughter, the scent of her hair, the feel of her skinny arms wrapped tight around my neck, the sound of her voice as I tucked her in bed each night. "Love you, Mommy," she always whispered.
Love you, too, baby. Love you.
His arm moved, first tentative stretch for the suspended duty belt, my holstered weapon.
One last chance . . .
I looked my husband in the eye. A single heartbeat of time.
Who do you love?
I made my decision. I set down my trooper’s belt on the kitchen table. And he grabbed my Sig Sauer and opened fire.
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