Chapter One of The Watcher
Kathryn Ellison’s laugh ended abruptly, like it
had been placed on a block and chopped in half. She’d been
in her kitchen, leaning against the counter and talking to her
daughter on the phone when the knock sounded on the screen
door. That in itself was not unfeasible. Her only daughter, Lexi,
was in her second year of university. Still unused to her absence,
and the uncharacteristic silence of the farmhouse that
had seen several generations of children born and raised within
its old stone walls, she phoned her daughter often. And, still
a bit homesick although she’d never admit it, Lexi often called
her, too. Which made it not only possible, but quite likely that
when the knock came, she would have the receiver pressed to
her ear as she listened intently to her daughter’s recounting of
the day’s events.
I say the knock, as if this one were more significant than
any other knock that had rattled that screen door over the
years, because, to Kathryn at least, I suspected it would be. Not
that she knew it at the moment. In fact, as she made her way
around the island and over to the door, still chatting away, she
was blissfully oblivious to the fact that her life was about to
change completely. And not for the first time. I couldn’t suppress
a shiver of excitement. A perfect metaphor always does
that to me. And her pushing open the screen to see the man
waiting on the other side, thereby flinging open a door she had
long ago wedged a shoulder against, figuratively speaking, was
in fact just such a metaphor.
Her daughter must have said something funny, because
she had just thrown back her head to laugh when she elbowed
open the screen and it was cut off. I held my breath, anticipating
a strong reaction. She didn’t disappoint me.
“Nick.” The whispered word fell from her lips, rich and
full, as though it had been there, growing and ripening for
years, waiting for the sight of him to pluck it from her. The
phone she been holding to her ear slipped down her cheek.
“Mom?” The concern in her daughter’s voice called her
back and she lifted the receiver.
“Lexi, I’ll talk to you later. Someone’s here.” I had to lean
forward to catch the words. They came out quiet and shaky,
like they’d traveled a long distance and needed to rest awhile
to catch their breath. Not waiting for a response, she pressed
the off button and dropped the phone onto the little wooden
table just inside the door. She leaned against the frame as
though she would sink down to the porch in a quivering heap
without its silent support.
Nick might not have noticed the way her legs trembled
and her fingers gripped the door handle until they turned
white at the knuckles, but I certainly did. In fact, when the
knock had first sounded I roused myself from a deep sleep,
instantly aware of the significance. The rush of adrenalin, the
memory of which had faded almost completely over the years,
propelled me to my feet. I groaned as my long idle bones and
muscles stretched and clicked into place, atrophied enough
that I had to lean against the porch railing myself to stay upright.
I wouldn’t have missed this meeting, though. Not for
anything. It was what I—and Kathryn, whether she knew it
or not—had been waiting for ever since that day in the courthouse
seventeen years earlier when she’d fi rst laid eyes on Nick
But I’m getting ahead of the story here. And not getting
ahead of the story is a rule I strictly adhere to. It’s a matter
of pride. And professionalism. And I am nothing if
Of course, this story is not about me, not really. I’m
just here to observe, to find out if I am actually to be called
into service to the woman I had long since despaired of
being any use to. It’s not certain yet that I will be. It
never is, until the end. And not even then sometimes. For
now all I can do is watch and wait, with a newly piqued
interest, to see if Nick and Kathryn will find me, or if
either of them will even have the courage to try. In the
meantime, I can spend my time telling you what I see,
and all that has gone on before. You know, about the letters
and such, and about the night that changed Kathryn’s
life so completely. I may as well be of use to someone while
I’ll start by taking you back to the meeting occurring
right now, although I warn you neither Kathryn nor
Nick has spoken since we left them. This is an interesting
phenomenon I have noted about humans in intense situations—
the words are the first thing to go. Frankly, I am
uncomfortable with this. Silence rarely sends you hurtling
toward me, so I usually attempt to fill in the blank
spaces (when I don’t forget myself and become caught up
in the drama of the moment) with dialogue of my own.
That’s when I’ll fill you in on what has happened in the
life of Kathryn Ellison to bring her to this point. There is
only myself and one other who can do it. Only the two of
us have been with her since the beginning, or very nearly.
At times both of us have packed to go, thinking we were
soon to be, in the case of my friend, Faith, ordered away,
or, in my case, lost beyond reclaiming.
We never have been. Not quite. I’m still here, and
so, somewhat battered and bruised, is Faith. Over there,
in the corner of the porch where she has climbed up on the
railing and sits, swinging both legs in front of her and
watching the encounter taking place with as much interest
as I was. She accepted this post about the same time
I did—the year Kathryn attended summer camp and
the two of them met. It was also the year, incidentally,
that seven–year–old Kathryn first donned her mother’s
old wedding dress and pretended to march up the aisle
with young Thomas Gladstone. That’s when I showed up.
When those types of dreams start filling a young girl’s
head, I know that my time has come.
“I shouldn’t have come by without calling.” Nick’s voice
was as thin and unsteady as hers and I took a step toward them
so as not to miss anything. “I just… needed to see you.”
“No, it’s fine. Do you want to sit down?” His eyes hadn’t
left hers and Kathryn could barely hear her own words past
the blood pounding in her ears.
He wore a black t–shirt and jeans and his light brown hair
hung almost to his shoulders. Nick Lawson had been born
after his time. His bearing and the look in his eyes revealed a
man right at home herding cattle on the open range. He was
a cowboy, at heart if not by profession. I watched her struggle
to take a breath.
Air, apparently, is the second thing to go in this type of
situation. Frankly, it’s a wonder any of you even survive
them, let alone manage to manoeuvre yourselves through
them to make your way to me.
“Sure.” He sank down on one of the white wicker chairs
on the porch.
“Can I get you something to drink? Lemonade maybe?”
Kathryn Ellison was, at the moment, clearly in need of something
to wrap her trembling hands around.
Nick managed a grin, although his dark brown eyes
churned with as much emotion as she felt. “Lemonade would
be great, thanks.”
I watched her through the screen as she pulled open the
refrigerator door and took out the pitcher.
Get a hold of yourself, Kathryn, I heard her tell herself.
I grinned at her self–admonishment. I’d listened in on
a lot of that over the years and it never failed to amuse me,
particularly as she rarely followed her own advice. Her hand
shook as she poured them both a tall glass of lemonade.
It’s been two years. He could easily be with someone else now. She set
down the pitcher and pressed a hand to her chest at the sudden
stab of pain that thought caused.
Just breathe. She picked up the glasses and returned to the veranda.
After handing ick a drink, she sank down on the wicker chair beside him.
He took a sip and raised his glass. “That’s good. Not from a can.”
“Oh no.” Kathryn’s eyes widened in feigned horror. “My
mother would die before she’d serve lemonade, or anything
else for that matter, from a can.”
His laugh was infectious and she couldn’t help grinning
back. Nick took another swallow of lemonade, then set his
glass down on the small table between their chairs and turned
to face her.
I glanced over at Faith, well aware of the magnitude of
this conversation. Lifting her head, she winked in my direction,
then turned back to watch, equally aware, I was sure.
Kathryn was drawn to Nick’s eyes. They were even darker
than she’d remembered, almost black, and she felt, when they
were directed at her, as though he could see right through her.
She swallowed hard. “How have you been, Nick? I’ve thought
about you and James often and wondered how you were.”
A shadow crossed his face. “We had a rough couple of
years after Halyna died. I think we’re better now. The pain
isn’t as sharp, and I can go a whole day here and there without
thinking about her, but it hasn’t been easy. We all miss her.”
My grin faded. Nick’s sister had died two years earlier and
I’d accompanied Kathryn to the funeral so that she could pay
her respects to Halyna’s husband James and to Nick. That had
been another time when I had watched the two of them and
wondered whether it was the beginning or the end for them.
Rarely had I been involved with two humans where it was so
hard to tell.
“I’m sure you do.” The pain was back in her chest, an ache
of grief for all he had been through. And she hadn’t been there
for him. She blinked rapidly. Of course she hadn’t been there
for him. It wasn’t her place. There was nothing between them…
It’s time to stop lying, Kathryn—to yourself and everyone else.
Her stomach clenched as she considered that thought. It
was a revelation to her, I realized, although I could have told
her that’s what she had been doing all those years, if she’d
asked. I knew she’d fooled herself into believing she was only
protecting her fragile heart. Nick Lawson was the first man to
break through all her carefully laid defenses, and he seemed to
do it effortlessly, with a single word or touch.
Kathryn straightened in her chair.
I can’t let him in. It’s not possible, is it?
She set her glass on the table and raised her gaze
to meet his. He was studying her intently, as though trying to
listen in on the internal dialogue he must have sensed she was
having. A look of wonder crossed her face. I knew immediately
what had happened. For years she had wanted him to go
slightly more than she had wanted him to stay, although she
wanted that desperately. Now, for the first time since he had
walked into her life, she’d realized that, finally, the opposite
When she didn’t speak, Nick drew in a deep, shuddering
Good. I was glad for her that she wasn’t the only one
struggling for composure.
“I’ve tried so hard to put you out of my mind.”
“Me, too.” Kathryn nodded slowly, making the admission
to herself as much as to him.
“I hope it’s worked as well for you as it has for me.” He
reached out and brushed back a strand of her long, dark hair
before taking her hand in his. “I know the timing has never
been right for us, and I’ve waited to feel a peace about when it
would be. Not very patiently, I might add. I haven’t felt it, until
now, although I’ve had to get James to hide my truck keys occasionally
to keep me from driving over here and taking you
in my arms again.”
Kathryn’s laugh almost ended in a sob. “I’m not sure I
would have objected if you had.”
A smile broke across Nick’s face. “Now you tell me.” He
sobered as he leaned forward, their clasped hands resting on
his knee. “I know you’ve been hurt, Kathryn, so it’s natural for
you to be scared. I’m scared, too. I’m still dealing with the loss
of a person I loved deeply, and the thought of getting close
to someone again is a bit terrifying. The thing is,” he brushed
the back of his hand lightly across her cheek, “I don’t think I
have a choice with you anymore. I’m not sure I ever have, to
I waited for her to bolt. It was her MO. I’d seen it happen
every time they had been together over the years. I realized
suddenly that I had the porch railing in a white–knuckled
grip. I yanked my hand away quickly as though the wood was
burning hot. I was becoming far too involved with this one.
There was something about Kathryn Ellison. She had been
through so much since That Night. I wanted her to find me,
more than I ever had with anyone else, I think. And so much
so that on more than one occasion I had almost jumped out in
front of her, waving my arms to let her know that I had not, as
she supposed, abandoned her entirely.
It was strictly forbidden, of course. My job was to watch
and make myself available, not to interfere in any way. Sometimes,
though, the watching and waiting, mostly because it
occurred during those unbearable silences (like the one that
filled the space between them now), required almost inhuman
strength. Fortunately for all concerned, I am inhuman, but
“I don’t have a choice, either.”
She looked as shocked as I felt. The words floated from
her mouth and hung in the air like the last notes of a particularly
haunting song even after the instrument has been put
A bright light ignited in his eyes. “Kathryn.” He said her
name like it was a rare treasure in his hands that he needed to
handle with reverent care.
Hope helped straighten up my old bones. Maybe… If
only a cloud neither of them could see, the only other thing to
disturb my slumber that week, hadn’t recently formed over the
horizon, they might have a real chance this time.
A sudden apprehension swept across her face, a cloud of
another sort. “But…”
Oh dear. Too many clouds blocking the sun now, a storm
obviously brewing. I looked over at Faith. Her legs had stopped
swinging, but otherwise she did not exhibit any of the trepidation
I was feeling. Not surprising. Faith is a lot hardier than I
am. She doesn’t dread storms. In fact, I sometimes wonder if she
doesn’t wish for them to come along. Easy for her. She usually
comes out of the battering wind and rain stronger than ever. For
me it can go either way. If I emerge at all, I am either in better
shape than before, or limping badly and in need of some sort of
metaphysical assistance. Not that it mattered. There was nothing
either of us could do but watch and wait for the hurricane
to blow in. And hope and pray that they—and I—survived it.
The light that had been glowing in Nick’s eyes flickered
and went out. I shivered, feeling the cold wind that had extinguished
it blow through me as I thinned to etherealness.
He gripped her hand tightly. And uselessly, as it turned out.
“Kathryn, no. Don’t do this. Not again.”
“I’m sorry.” Her voice broke but she pulled her hand from
his and stood, backing toward the house until she reached the
cold stone side of it. “There are some things I have to do. I just
need some time.”
“How much time?” His gaze followed her, pinned her to
“I’m not sure. A few days.”
He pushed to his feet and strode toward the porch stairs.
Thinking he was going, I took a couple of steps forward, prepared
to follow, but he stopped at the post and gripped it with
both hands, resting his forehead on the smooth, white–painted
surface. She waited, twisting her hands together in front of
her like she could feel me leaving on his heels and was struggling
to hold on.
When he turned back, the light had returned to his eyes,
but a hot red glow now, not the bright yellow blaze that had
been there before. “Don’t you think this thing has kept us apart
The same red glow leapt into her eyes as she pulled herself
up straight, the rough stones scraping against her back. “This
thing almost destroyed my life.”
Neither of them spoke for a few seconds, but I was too
overwrought myself to jump in and fill the silence. I waited,
but not, thankfully, for long.
His shoulders sagged and he crossed the porch toward
her and pressed the palms of his hands against the wall on
either side of her head. The pulse pounded in her throat. “I
know that.” He smacked the wall with both palms and she
jumped. “Don’t you think I know that? I’ve watched it eat you
up for years. And I’ve felt the prick of every tooth that ripped
into you gnawing away at me, too.”
It wasn’t the words that dragged the tears, against her will,
up into her eyes. It was the pain that laced through them, like
the yarn on a child’s sewing card, outlining and defining each
Nick searched her face in the soft glow of the porch light.
Then, with a heavy sigh, he lowered one hand, trailing his
thumb across her cheek to wipe away the tear that had started
down. “Well, it’s been seventeen years. What’s a few more
days?” He stepped back and made an attempt, which failed
miserably, at a smile.
She did no better when she tried to return it. A few days
was a lot, she knew. Except for Faith and me, no one understood
more than they did what could be gained—or lost—in a
few days. A few hours. A few seconds. “This isn’t like the other
times. I promise.”
Nick studied her, trying to find me in her eyes, no doubt.
His jaw tightened. “I’m coming back for you.” He turned on
his heel and started down the stairs.
“I’ll be here,” Kathryn said. The words were soft, almost
under her breath. Still, he heard them, and took Hope along
with him. I could see it in the set of his shoulders.
I’d started to follow him, but the quiet promise turned me
back and I sank down onto my wooden chair in the deeply
shadowed corner of the porch once again.
She would be here. And so, apparently, would I.