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If you like Mary Higgins Clark, you’ll like Suspicions.

When a neighbor boy is kidnapped for ransom, Stacey Hunter is stunned to discover that circumstantial evidence points to her husband. Not able to believe he could be involved in such a horrifying crime, she sets out to discover who is really behind the kidnapping.

Complicating Stacey’s efforts is the odd behavior of her supervisor, Patricia Summers, who has taken a keen interest in Stacey’s husband.

Though uncertain of her husband’s faithfulness, Stacey presses on with her investigation to flush out the kidnapper and is faced with losing everything she loves, as well as her own life

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Chapter 1

Eight-year-old Robby Hunter closed his front door with a soft click as he stepped onto the porch, then paused, half-expecting his mother to yank the door open and catch him sneaking out. Though he wanted to be obedient, he and his best friend Kyle had made plans to play at their treehouse that afternoon. 

The two boys usually walked home from their third grade class together, but Kyle had stayed after to help Mrs. Hershfield take down the red and pink valentine hearts and put the green St. Patrick’s Day clovers up in their place. If he hadn’t been grounded, Robby would have stayed too. 

Sometimes he had trouble minding his mother, which is why she’d grounded him in the first place. “Maybe if you’re grounded,” she’d told him the night before, “that will help you remember to check in with me before you go off to play after school.”

Frowning at his mother’s logic, Robby dashed away from the porch. Sometimes I forget to tell her. What’s the big deal anyway? And how will grounding me help me to remember?

Stuffing his hands into his coat pockets, he walked down the sidewalk, chilled by the breeze despite the warmth of the California sun. Worried that someone might tell on him, he glanced around to see if any of the neighborhood kids were out playing. None were.

As he approached the corner near the school grounds, Robby thought it would be fun to give Kyle a scare, so he crept behind some low green bushes, poking his head up every few seconds to watch for his friend. His wait was rewarded when Kyle ambled in his direction, dragging a stick across the chain link fence surrounding the school. 

Robby looked toward the treehouse nestled in the walnut orchard across the street, then smiled. Sometimes other kids played in his and Kyle’s treehouse, but today no one was there.

The orchard belonged to old Mr. Gowen, but he’d allowed the two boys to use one of his walnut trees to build their treehouse. Robby and Kyle loved to go there to play, sometimes pretending they lived on a desert island. They’d even brought a few of their parents’ old belongings to the treehouse, like an old wind-up alarm clock and a battery-operated radio.     

Robby could hardly wait until he and Kyle could go there and play. He just hoped his mom wouldn’t notice he wasn’t in his room. 

Peeking over the bushes to check Kyle’s progress, Robby saw that Kyle was nearly to his hiding place. Not wanting to give away his position, he stifled a giggle as Kyle drew closer, and when Kyle finally reached the bushes where he lay in wait, Robby jumped out and yelled, “Boo!”

Kyle jumped, then laughed along with Robby as they raced each other across the street to their treehouse. It was a tie. They scrambled up the short ladder, pushing and shoving each other in their haste to reach the top first. They flung themselves onto the hard wooden floor and wrestled around, knocking over a large square of wood placed on bricks that they used as a table. Stopping to catch their breath, they grabbed the container of red licorice stashed in the corner and pulled out a few of the long, sticky pieces. 

Kyle bit off a large chunk, then spoke around the candy in his mouth. “Hey, Robby, I thought you couldn’t play today.” 

Robby giggled. “Yeah, but I snuck out.” He took off his jacket and tossed it in the corner before reaching for more licorice. “My mom was busy and she didn’t see me leave.”

After placing the wood back on the bricks and balancing the battery operated radio on top, they played with the dial, listening to a station for a few seconds before spinning to another one. Soon tiring of that game, they sat without speaking, munching on their candy.

A twig snapped.

“Hey,” Kyle whispered. “What was that?” 

Robby looked around. “I don’t know. I hope it’s not my mom. I’ll be in big trouble.”

Someone was climbing the ladder. 

“Hey kids. What are you doin’?”

“It’s only Mr. Gowen,” Robby said with relief.

Fred Gowen looked like he needed a shave. In his late sixties, he walked around his orchard frequently, sometimes stopping by the treehouse to check on the boys. “What’re you eatin’?” He gazed into their sanctuary.

Kyle held out the box of licorice. “Want one?”

Mr. Gowen stayed on the ladder and shook his head. “You be careful now, hear?” The boys nodded, then Gowen climbed down and his footsteps faded away.

Robby scooted toward the door, the unexpected meeting with Gowen reminding him that he didn’t want to get caught out of his room. The last time his mother had caught him sneaking out while grounded, she’d added a whole week to his punishment. “I’m going home, Kyle.” He stepped onto the top rung of the ladder. “Are you coming?”

Kyle shook his head, his eyes downcast. “Not yet.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know.” A solemn expression filled his face. “I just don’t want to go home right now.”

“But you might get in trouble from your mom.” Robby’s brow creased with concern.

Kyle stared at the piece of licorice in his hand. “Maybe she’ll think I’m still at school.” He looked at Robby and spoke with intensity. “Promise you won’t tell I was here by myself.”

Robby paused on the threshold of the treehouse. “How come?”

“She told me I’m not supposed to play here by myself. She said something could happen to me and no one would know.”

A shiver of dread shot up Robby’s spine. “What do you mean?” 

The red licorice seemed to capture Kyle’s attention once again. “I don’t know.” 

Robby didn’t understand what Kyle was talking about. What could happen? He wondered if Kyle was trying to spook him to get even for surprising him at the bushes earlier. 

It was working.

“I thought you were going home,” Kyle said as Robby hesitated in the doorway.

“Yeah, and you should, too.”

Kyle reached for another piece of licorice. “I will in a little while.”

Jumping to the dirt below, Robby replayed Kyle’s comment about something happening to him and no one knowing. Of course Mom and Dad would know. Parents always know stuff.

That thought pushed him to hurry toward the street so he could get home before his mother found out he’d been disobedient. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if she discovered he’d snuck out again.

Pausing as he reached the street he needed to cross, he waited while an older brown car drove slowly by. Preoccupied with getting home, he hardly noticed the vehicle as it passed.

Half a block from home he realized he’d left his jacket in the treehouse. That morning his mom had made a fuss when he didn’t have it on. When I don’t have it for school tomorrow she’ll know it’s missing, and then she’ll know I snuck out. He sighed. I’d better go get it.

As he retraced his steps, his mind filled with thoughts of playing with his friend, and concern about his mother faded. Nearing the spot where he’d surprised Kyle earlier, Robby saw Kyle jump down from the bottom rung of the ladder, cross the street by the school, then stare at the ground as he moved along the sidewalk.

I guess he decided to go home. 

A moment later Robby was within shouting distance. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he prepared to call out to his friend, but then it occurred to him that he might be able to scare Kyle a second time. Grinning, Robby slid behind the bushes.

Peering over the foliage for a better view, he saw Kyle bend down to tie one sneaker. Unable to hold back his giggles, Robby pressed his hand over his mouth, but when he saw a car coming, the same one that had driven past a short time before, he ducked, the giggles finally under control.

Not wanting Kyle to see him, he crouched behind the bushes and waited in silence, listening intently for Kyle’s footsteps. Rather than the sound of sneakers slapping the sidewalk, he heard a car’s engine, but the sound didn’t fade. In fact it sounded like the car was idling. Then Robby heard the low hum of voices. He thought he heard a car door slam. He was certain he heard someone cry out. Unexpected fear rolled up his spine and he shuddered, suddenly longing for the safety of his room. 

He remained hidden, paralyzed by an instinct he didn’t understand. Only after the sound of the car’s engine was completely gone did he venture a glance. 

Kyle was gone. 

Robby stood on his tiptoes to get a better look, then, heart thudding, he darted out from behind the bushes. Uncertainty mixed with fear when it became clear Kyle was nowhere in sight. 

Where did he go? 

Kyle’s words echoed in his head. My mom told me I’m not supposed to play here by myself. She said something could happen to me and no one would know. 

Robby didn’t understand. What happened? 

Then Kyle’s other words filled his mind. Promise you won’t tell I was here by myself.

Panic poured over him in icy torrents. He turned and ran all the way home.

* * *

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