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The beginning: thirteen years ago, All Hallow’s Eve

Rick folded his father’s suit and set it in a box that was going to charity. The whole room was packed into boxes. A double row of donation items, boxes for auction, and two boxes of items he’d decided to keep.

The only thing left was his father’s bag of personal effects, then he could put his father’s presence behind him. A year ago, he’d have mourned, if for nothing but the lost opportunity for a change for the better. But he was a different man now at twenty-two than the boy he’d been at twenty-one. Losing both of his parents within months of each other would change anyone. Especially since his mother had committed suicide, and six months later, his father drove off a cliff. His death had been ruled an accident, but Rick was undecided: his father had been a very good driver.

But it wasn’t just his parents’ deaths that had changed him. Finding his wife’s dead body and then being charged with her murder had started the ball rolling. After he’d survived the trial with his freedom and sanity intact, or mostly intact, he’d become a man who could go through his father’s things without feeling either rage or sorrow.

He picked up the white plastic bag that held the contents of his father’s pockets and whatever happened to be on his body when he’d arrived at the hospital and spilled the contents out on the desk. His father’s wedding ring—why he wore one when he never had honored the vows it was supposed to represent, Rick had never been able to fathom. His wallet. A handful of change.

Rick opened the wallet. Someone at the hospital or the morgue had emptied the cash: his father would never have been driving around without cash. The credit cards seemed to be all there, though. He set those aside along with his father’s driver’s license to be shredded. There were two photos, battered and worn, in the wallet: Rick at six or seven with a softball bat over one shoulder and a determined look on his face, and Rick’s mother—one of the photos taken at their wedding.

Rick looked like he was on his way to being an athlete, and his beautiful mother looked sweet and happy. Rick wondered why his father would keep those photos, the ones that lied so badly about the people in them. Rick had never, that he could remember, hit a softball and made it go anywhere but in the foul zone. And his mother . . . well, sweet and happy were not adjectives he’d have applied to her.

Maybe his father had liked to pretend that his life was different than it really was. Rick understood that impulse even if he’d always been more of the face-the-bad-stuff-head-on kind of guy. So Rick put both photos in the to-be-shredded pile and tossed the wallet in the charity box.

There was something more in the bag and Rick dumped it out: a thick silver chain with a blocky, carved-jade pendant that looked both arty and masculine. It was a nice piece, but he didn’t wear jewelry—and he didn’t want a reminder of his father wrapped around his neck.

He picked it up and held it up to the light so he could judge if this was something that should go to auction or if he should give it to charity.

As he held it, he thought absently that it might have been an expensive piece. A deft hand had created the angles and the deliberately primitive lines of the pendant. Toward the center there was a change in color from clear, translucent green to frost. The carving dipped just there, as if the someone had started to carve out the cloudy bit but had reconsidered. He checked for a maker’s mark—something he could use to determine value.

He liked the way it felt in his hand, liked the contrast between cold chain and warm pendant. For the first time since he’d begun cleaning out the room this morning, Rick felt something. He clenched the pendant in his fist and let himself feel the love he had for his family—twisted and broken as they had been, he’d still loved them. The necklace felt like family.

He snorted at his own fancy. “Don’t anthropomorphize,” he advised himself. “It’s a piece of jewelry.”

But he put the chain around his neck anyway and didn’t feel as alone with the pendant warm in the hollow of his throat.