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Authors: Kay Hooper

Finding Laura

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More praise for Kay Hooper

F
INDING
L
AURA

“You always know you are in for an outstanding read when you pick up a Kay Hooper novel, but in
FINDING LAURA
, she has created something really special! Simply superb!”

—Romantic Times
(gold medal review)

“Hooper keeps the intrigue pleasurably complicated, with gothic touches of suspense and a satisfying resolution.”


Publishers Weekly

“A first-class reading experience.”


Affaire de Coeur

“Ms. Hooper throws in one surprise after another.… Spellbinding.”


Rendezvous

A
FTER
C
AROLINE

“Harrowing good fun. Readers will shiver and shudder.”


Publishers Weekly

“Kay Hooper comes through with thrills, chills, and plenty of romance, this time with an energetic murder mystery with a clever twist. The suspense is sustained admirably right up to the very end.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“Peopled with interesting characters and intricately plotted, the novel is both a compelling mystery and a satisfying romance.”


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Kay Hooper has crafted another solid story to keep readers enthralled until the last page is turned.”

—Booklist

“Joanna Flynn is appealingly plucky and true to her mission as she probes the mystery that was Caroline.”

—Variety

A
MANDA

“Amanda
seethes and sizzles. A fast-paced, atmospheric tale that vibrates with tension, passion, and mystery.

Readers will devour it.”

—Jayne Ann Krentz

“Kay Hooper’s dialogue rings true; her characters are more three-dimensional than those usually found in this genre. You may think you’ve guessed the outcome, unraveled all the lies. Then again, you could be as mistaken as I was.”

—The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

“Will delight fans of Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt.”

—Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

“Kay Hooper knows how to serve up a latter-day gothic that will hold readers in its brooding grip.”

—Publishers Weekly

“I lapped it right up. There aren’t enough good books in this genre, so this stands out!”

—Booknews
from The Poisoned Pen

“Kay Hooper has given you a darn good ride, and there are far too few of those these days.”

—Dayton Daily News

BANTAM BOOKS BY KAY HOOPER

H
AUNTING
R
ACHEL
F
INDING
L
AURA
A
FTER
C
AROLINE
A
MANDA
T
HE
W
IZARD OF
S
EATTLE
O
N
W
INGS OF
M
AGIC
S
TEALING
S
HADOWS
H
IDING IN THE
S
HADOWS
O
UT OF THE
S
HADOWS
Don’t miss Kay Hooper’s latest novels of suspense
T
OUCHING
E
VIL
W
HISPER OF
E
VIL
And coming soon in hardcover
S
ENSE OF
E
VIL
And look for
O
NCE A
T
HIEF
Coming in October 2002

This edition contains the complete text of the
original hardcover edition.
NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED.

F
INDING
L
AURA
A B
ANTAM
B
OOK

PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bantam hardcover edition published November 1997
Bantam paperback edition / July 1998
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1997 by Kay Hooper.
Cover art copyright © 1997 by Alan Ayers.
Hand-lettering copyright © 1997 by Ron Zinn.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-76809-4

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

v3.1

F
OR MY NEPHEW
, C
LINT—
A VERY BELATED BIRTHDAY PRESENT

CONTENTS
Family Tree

Prologue

D
ECEMBER 24, 1954

S
he set the mirror carefully on the table, her fingers lingering unconsciously to trace the intricate swirls of polished brass. The eyes she raised to meet his were wide and disturbed.

“Why are you telling me this?” Her voice was unsteady.

“Because you have to know.” He stepped nearer to her, his face tightening a little at her obvious distress. “Don’t you see what it means, darling? Don’t you understand?”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Catherine—”

She shook her head once, violently. “No. I don’t believe it. How could I believe it? You’re asking me to set aside all the teachings of my lifetime.”

It had been a mistake to tell her, he realized that now. She was too deeply religious, her faith too absolute, to allow for acceptance of such a thing—even when it came from him. Something coldly uneasy stirred inside him as he gazed at her agitated face.

“It’s all right, darling,” he said soothingly. “Just a farfetched idea of mine, that’s all. Because I love you so much, it just seems to me—”

“No.” She was looking at him as if at a stranger, a stranger with shocking ideas. “No, you believe it. You really believe it.”

He wanted to deny that, to say anything to wipe away the frightened look on her face, the panicked bewilderment in her eyes. But he did believe what he had told her, and he knew himself too well to think he would be able to lie about it—especially to her.

Attempting the next best thing, he said, “Does that really matter, Catherine? There are other things we don’t agree on, other ways we think differently. Why should this matter?”

The last vestige of color drained from her face. “You mean … all this time you’ve been going with me to church, and you didn’t
believe?
You have no faith? You—you’ve been lying to me?”

“No, not lying. I just believe in a different interpretation of God’s word, that’s all. A different explanation of—”

But she was backing away from him, her wide eyes agonized. “I—I don’t know you at all,” she murmured. “How can I marry a man I don’t even know?”

“Catherine—” He reached out for her, but she turned, stumbling a little, and rushed from the room.

For just a moment he stood there, cold with anxiety, with the hollow awareness of having made the biggest mistake of his life. Then he heard the cracked muffler of her beat-up jalopy roar with life, and his heart leaped into his throat as he raced for the door. It was pouring rain out, the roads slick as glass, and she wasn’t a very good driver.…

Her car fishtailed out of the driveway as he climbed into his and started the engine with jerky urgency. He knew where she would go. To her church, where she had
taken all the problems and questions of her life. But it was on the other side of town, with too many hairpin turns and steep hills to traverse at high speed in the pouring rain.

He wasn’t far behind her, he thought, but he couldn’t see much beyond the hood of his car and had to slow down, cursing under his breath. He could feel the tires slipping, losing traction even at the slower speed, and the coldness inside him spread outward like icy ripples in a pool.

She’ll be safe. She has to. Her God will take care of her
.

But then his car reached the top of one of the many vicious hills, and his headlights caught the ragged break in the old wooden fence that had been erected as a pitiful barrier. Frantic, he stopped his car and wrenched the door open, already calling her name. He was soaked in the seconds it took him to reach the gap in the fence, water streaming in his eyes and blinding him so that he almost catapulted over the edge of the embankment before he could stop himself.

He swiped a hand across his eyes and peered through the driving rain. Lightning flashed, offering a quick, stark glimpse of what lay below. It was her car, canted at an impossible angle, a red glow underneath it hellish evidence of terrible danger. He started forward, slipping in the mud, thinking of nothing except getting to her.

He was still twenty feet from the car when there was a hollow
whomp
, and the explosion lifted the vehicle briefly into the air. The blast of heat knocked him backward off his feet, and by the time he struggled to sit up, flames had engulfed the car.

Paralyzed with horror, with the first razor slashes of agony, he saw, in the cruel light the fire provided, Catherine’s hand. It lay across the ledge of the driver’s-side window, limp and unmarked by the shattered glass all around it. And on the third finger, the diamond he had given her glittered with bright and mocking promise.

Chapter 1

J
ust a couple of hours tomorrow morning, I promise. Come on, Laura—it’ll be fun.”

Laura Sutherland pulled her sunglasses down her nose to peer at her companion, wincing at the brightness of the afternoon light bouncing off the blue water of the apartment complex’s pool. “Fun for who? Cass, I hate antiques. You know I hate antiques.”

Basking in the hot sunlight a few feet away from her umbrella-shaded friend, Cassidy Burke rubbed more suntan lotion onto a brown thigh and made a sound of frustration. “It won’t be just antiques, Laura. According to what I’ve heard, there’ll be all kinds of things—and furniture in all kinds of styles. Besides, haven’t you always wanted to get inside the Kilbourne estate?”

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